Portland Museum of Art

Portland, Maine

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Harmonies and Contrasts: The Art of Marguerite and William Zorach


Works of art by Marguerite and William Zorach will be on view at the Portland Museum of Art from November 8, 2001 through January 6, 2002. This exhibit explores the collaborative spirit of the Zorachs' union and the evolution of the vision of both artists. Oil paintings, watercolors, prints, embroideries, and sculpture in wood, stone, and bronze are included. Harmonies and Contrasts: The Art of Marguerite and William Zorach will be shown in conjunction with an exhibition featuring their daughter's art; Dahlov Ipcar: Seven Decades of Creativity, will be on view from October 6, 2001 through January 27, 2001.

Summer residents of Robinhood, Maine, William (1889-1966) and Marguerite (1887-1968) Zorach were among the most vital and versatile American artists of the first half of the 20th century. Among the earliest proponents of modernism of their generation, they participated in an artistic revolution, living in Greenwich Village and summering periodically in the avant-garde artists' colony at Provincetown, and producing ground-breaking bodies of work. They are also among a handful of artist couples whose sustained and sustaining relationship consistently enabled them to grow and test boundaries in their art. (left: Marguerite Zorach (1887-1968), Girl with Cat (Dahlov and Tooky), 1930, oil on canvas, 42 x 26 inches, Private collection)

The couple's relationship began when William Zorach and Marguerite Thompson met in Paris in 1911 while studying painting. Despite their divergent backgrounds (Marguerite, descended from New England stock, had enjoyed a genteel upbringing in California, while William was the son of Lithuanian immigrants eking out a living in Cleveland), the two shared a passionate vision of what art could be. Exposed in Paris to a new approach to art based on creative spontaneity, the use of pure and often distorted color, and the simplification of form, Marguerite was already a fervent "Post-Impressionist" when she met William. She encouraged him to liberate himself from his academic training and embrace the freedom and expressive potential offered by modern art. Together they mapped out a utopian vision for an art that would reject convention and would employ progressive aesthetic ideas to celebrate the liberating beauty of nature and of human love.

The Zorachs chose to pursue these artistic goals and their life together from a base in New York City, where they were married in 1912. During the first decade of their marriage, the Zorachs' art developed so much in tandem that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish their work. At the time they were both focused primarily on oil painting, and together they explored and synthesized ideas derived first from Fauvism and then from Cubism. While they strategically made their home in New York City, they escaped to the country every summer and well into the fall. They both derived inspiration from these sojourns, leading to parallel subject matter in their paintings, which draw on images captured in Chappaqua, New York; the White Mountains of New Hampshire; Provincetown's seaside community; the dramatic landscape of Yosemite; and, finally and most lastingly, the coast of Maine. As their family grew to include a son, Tessim, born in 1915, and a daughter, Dahlov, born in 1917, the joys of children became an important and ongoing theme for both artists. The lively exchange of ideas so evident in the vibrant paintings of this period led on occasion to actual collaborations. The Zorachs jointly created embroideries (a medium that would continue to be an area of innovation in Marguerite's art) and each developed works from designs created by the other. Significantly, when William first began to explore sculpture -- which would become his primary creative medium -- it was with Marguerite at his side as they both experimented with carving wood panels and modeling clay. (left: William Zorach (1889-1966), New Horizons, 1951, bronze, 44 1/2 x 20 x 39 1/2 inches, Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Cardone, 1986.194)

In 1922, William Zorach gave up painting in oils to pursue a career as a sculptor. From that point, the Zorachs' art becomes more divergent as each developed their mature styles; however, their life together continued to inform their art both in subject and style. Scenes from family life -- particularly images of their children, their pets, and each other -- appear continually in their work as do representations of their homes in New York, and Robinhood, Maine. Throughout their lives, they both shared a remarkable vitality as artists whose accomplishments in their primary media of painting and sculpture were rivaled by other artistic achievements, in her case, creative work in textiles, and in his, hundreds of vivid, fluid watercolors painted throughout his career.

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For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

Milford Zornes is the subject of a 3-minute video by Bill Anderson of Anderson Art Gallery in which he familiarizes the viewer in this short video with the works for the 99-year-old artist, Milford Zornes. Accessed August, 2015.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 6/7/11

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