William Zorach 1887 —1966


Escaping a life of poverty in his native Lithuania, Zorach and his family immigrated to the United States in 1891 when he was four.  Showing talent early on, his teacher suggested he partake in an apprenticeship in Cleveland, Ohio for a lithographic workshop when he was only twelve.   After eight years, he moved on to study at the National Academy of Design in New York and later at Jacques-Emile Blanche's atelier in Paris.

At this juncture, he engaged solely in painting in the style of the conservative paintings on display in the 1911 Salon de Automne.  Concurrently, he met his future wife, Marguerite Thompson, with whom he worked and thrived throughout his career. Soon the Zorach pair would find a mutual source of inspiration in the collection of Gertrude and Leo Stein, which consisted mostly of Fauvist and Cubist paintings.  The pivotal Sixty-Ninth Regimental Armory Show of 1913 captured the couples’ as well as the new revolutionary underlying concepts that were developing.

After showing his work in Charles Daniel's New York gallery for years, the two severed ties on Zorach's accord and the artist moved on to new ventures including set design for Eugene Oneill's plays but more importantly on to sculpture. He was instinctually drawn to the concept of sculpting and in 1922, he painted what turned out to be his last oil.  In his Greenwich studio, from this point forward and without any formal training he focused solely on sculpting which would turn to be the medium for which he would achieve the most success.

Vitally important to Zorach's philosophy on sculpting was the notion of the esthetic necessity of the artist carving his own creations directly in whatever medium he was carving instead of the common practice of first creating a prototype model in clay.  He valued the slow gradual process
of the slow evolution of forms that emerged as a result of this organic method.  It is true that the artist had no formal training in sculpture but he maintained his guiding force for his approach in a lecture on what became denoted as direct sculpture in 1930 "The actual resistance of tough material is a wonderful guide."  Zorach embraced the limitations of the mediums of wood and stone and their divergent grains and markings and allowed for peculiarities to modify and improve his original vision for the sculpture. 

He so revered the nature of original materials that he would often leave certain areas of his sculptures virgin to the tools of the artist in stark contrast those on which he heavily worked.  In veering away from the neo-classical tendencies and illustrative modeling of the early 1900s he pioneered an avant-garde movement centered on the intrinsic aesthetic value of the material and multiplicity of imagery and restrained modeling.

Commissions honored the artist throughout the country and exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Dallas Museum of Fine Art, the McNay Art Institute, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. His work is currently exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Boston Museum of Fine Art, the Los Angeles Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum and the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Source: Owings-Dewey Gallery, Santa Fe, NM

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View synoptic biography below.

Maine Islands

Maine Islands
c. 1948

48.25 x 66.04 inches
Signed recto. Provenance: From the Artist; Downtown Gallery; Lawrence Rockefeller Collection

Select Past Exhibits

Partners in Modernism: The Art of Marguerite and William Zorach
Bernard Goldberg Fine Arts, LLC
April 11 - May 25, 2007

Zabriskie Gallery Tribute to The Art Students League of New York, Zabriskie Gallery
September 13 - October 29, 2005

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