Marguerite and William Zorach spent the winter seasons in New York City, soaking up the avant-garde ideas in the paintings and sculpture shown at Alfred Stieglitz's 291 gallery and elsewhere while seeking exhibition opportunities for their own art. The warm months were for rejuvenation; between...
Marguerite and William Zorach spent the winter seasons in New York City, soaking up the avant-garde ideas in the paintings and sculpture shown at Alfred Stieglitz's 291 gallery and elsewhere while seeking exhibition opportunities for their own art. The warm months were for rejuvenation; between 1915 and 1918, the Zorachs spent several summers in New Hampshire. Although each of them would later specialize in other media (Marguerite became well known as a textile artist and William became one of the leading sculptors of the modernist generation), during this period they were both active as painters. Their styles, based on their experiences as art students in Paris a few years earlier, combined the vivid palette of Fauvism with Cubist compositional structure. Each of them turned to the landscape of the surrounding White Mountains as subject matter. In this case, their responses are found on either side of a single canvas: on the back of Marguerite's 1917 "Whippoorwills" is William's "Randolph, New Hampshire," painted two years before. It is not known why the Zorachs chose to paint on both sides of a single piece of canvas. They were extremely poor in those years and may have been driven to work in this unusual manner for reasons of economy. But the double-sided canvas is also an expression of the collaborative spirit that marked their careers, and their marriage. They frequently had joint exhibitions; Marguerite drew embroidery motifs from images in William's paintings, while he based sculptural elements on her needlework designs; and a number of Marguerite's embroidered pictures were worked on (and signed) by both of them. Both sides of this painting reflect the Zorachs' pleasure in their summers in New Hampshire, where they lived rent- and relatively care- free in handsomely sited if dilapidated farmhouses that were loaned to them by generous patrons. William presented New Hampshire as Arcadia, with sensuous, Matisse-like nudes lounging in a bucolic landscape. He uses bold, bright colors reminiscent of French Fauvism. Marguerite's response to their surroundings was much more direct (MFA 1993.867b).The rolling hills, leafy woodlands, little waterfalls, and houses nestled in the valleys shown here are an accurate portrayal of the cozy landscape near Plainfield, New Hampshire, where they lived in 1917. The warm earth tones emphasize the organic quality of her picture. She molds the hills and trees into flat, decorative shapes, creating a tapestry-like pattern. Her technique also resonates with her work in textiles, for she paints thinly so that the canvas weave creates a background texture for her design. At the same time, she is a keen observer of nature: she accurately portrays the whippoorwills as having short rounded wings and rounded tails. Nocturnal birds, they soar by on the surface of the picture, beneath a crescent moon. This text was adapted from Davis, et al., MFA Highlights: American Painting (Boston, 2003) available at www.mfashop.com/mfa-publications.html.
Lower right: WM ZORACH/—1915
The artist; private collection, New England; with William Doyle Galleries, New York, European and American Paintings and Sculpture, November 17, 1993, lot 55; to MFA, 1993, purchase.
Tompkins Collection—Arthur Gordon Tompkins Fund
Courtesy Zabriskie Gallery, New York