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 William Zorach  (1887 - 1966)

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Lived/Active: New York/California/Maine      Known for: abstract sculpture, modernist landscape and figure painting

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Ad Code: 1
William Zorach
from Auction House Records.
Spirit of the Dance
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Eurburg, Lithuania on Feb. 28, 1887,  William Zorach was brought to the U.S. in 1891.  He grew up in Cleveland and later worked as a lithographer while studying at night at the Cleveland School of Art.  The winters of 1907 and 1908 were spent in New York City studying at the National Academy of Design.

He spent the year 1920 in Yosemite Valley which resulted in dozens of watercolors, drawings, and oils of the area.

He died in Bath, Maine on Nov. 15, 1966.

Armory Show (NYC), 1913; LACMA, 1940.

Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Who's Who in American Art 1936-66; NY Times, 11-17-1966 (obituary).
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

Biography from The Owings Gallery:
Born in 1887 in Lithuania, William Zorach immigrated with his family to the United States when he was just four years old, settling in Cleveland, Ohio.  Zorach displayed an exceptional artistic talent at a young age and, at the recommendation of his seventh-grade teacher, began studying lithography at night at the Cleveland School of Art.  It was not long before he was apprenticing at a lithography company in Cleveland.  It was there that he realized he wanted to become an artist - to escape the commercial end of the field in which he was suddenly immersed.

In 1907, Zorach saved enough money to move to New York and study art at the National Academy of Design, where he received several awards for his paintings and drawings.  He continued his studies in Paris in 1910 at La Palette.  This year abroad would turn out to be quite fruitful because in Paris he was greatly influenced by the Cubist and Fauvist movements and had several paintings exhibited at the Salon d'Automme.  This influence and subsequent success fueled his career back in the states where he was honored with his first one-man exhibition.  Due to this new-found stability, he married a young woman he met at school in Paris, and they moved to New York and set up a studio.  Shortly after, their work was accepted into the famous 1913 Armory Show.

For the next nine years, Zorach continued to think of himself as a painter, although he had already begun to experiment in sculpting.  He was experiencing modest success with his painting and was therefore reluctant to abandon it completely.  However, he was impelled toward sculpting, and in 1922, he painted his last oil.

Zorach's involvement with sculpture began largely be accident.  While he was working on a series of wood-block prints, Zorach suddenly became more interested in the butternut panel than the print and turned the panel into a carved relief.  With no formal training as a sculptor, Zorach's first sculptures were of wood and his carving tools were primitive, such as a jack-knife. I n fact, his early works have a certain stylized look, suggesting the influence of various primitive arts such as African and American folk.

Zorach found his sculptural direction by instinct, but was not unaware of what other sculptors were doing, both here and abroad.  He soon allied himself with a growing number of modern sculptors who believed in the esthetic necessity of carving their own designs directly in the block of stone or wood rather than modeling them in clay.  From the beginning he found a deep satisfaction in the slow and patient process of freeing the image from its imprisoning block, watching the forms emerge and appear.

"The actual resistance of tough material is a wonderful guide," Zorach said in a lecture on direct sculpture in 1930.  The sculptor "cannot make changes easily, there is no putting back tomorrow what was cut away today.  His senses are constantly alert. If something goes wrong there is the struggle to right the rhythm.  And slowly the vision grows as the work progresses."  Zorach also found that the material itself had a constantly modifying effect on the artist's vision.  The grain of the wood, the markings in the stone, the shape of the log or boulder all set limits and suggested possibilities.  He was always sensitive to the characteristic qualities of his material and occasionally let them play a major role in determining his forms.  In works such as these, the feel of the original material is preserved in the finished piece and is often heightened by leaving parts of the original surface untouched and other areas roughly marked by the sculptors tools.

In 1923 Zorach bought a farm in Maine, where he and his family would spend their summers.  He continued to sculpt and was soon recognized as one of the country's premier artists, honored with multiple commissions 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, among others. Today his work can be found in such prestigious museums as 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.

In all, Zorach's sculpture is not outwardly American. It deals with the universal themes of life. He ultimately played a major role in rescuing American sculpture from the neo-classical tendencies and illustrative modeling which dominated it at the turn of the century. He helped to develop an isolated avant-garde in this country due in part to his focus not only on universal themes but on the intrinsic beauty of his material, sensuous tactile values, subtlety of modeling and a variety of imagery.

Source: Owings-Dewey Gallery, Santa Fe, NM

Biography from Levis Fine Art:
William Zorach is recognized for playing a major role in rescuing American sculpture from the Neo-classical tendencies and academic modeling which dominated the market at the turn of the century.  By 1930, he was already one of America's premier 20th century sculptors and was honored with multiple commissions and exhibitions including at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Dallas Museum of Fine Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and numerous others.

Characterized by a solemn, calm, and meditative spirit, William Zorach's sculptures retain the spirit and freshness of their original conception and the spontaneity of the direct carve method.  His works represent a profound respect not only for their subject matter, but most importantly for the intrinsic properties of each medium used. His acute sensitivity to line, the expansive volume of curves, and the rhythmic relationship between his forms and space are all qualities which make Zorach a master of his art. (Wingert, 1938)

Zorach first learned the nuances of his craft when he was an apprentice at Morgan Lithograph Company in Ohio.  He eventually saved enough money to travel to and study in New York City at the National Academy of Design and also in Paris under the mentoring of Jacques-Emile Blanche.  It was in Paris in the first decade of the 20th century where Zorach's path crossed with Marguerite, his soon to be wife. Both Marguerite and William were both represented in the landmark Armory Show of 1913.

William continued to paint for the next two decades, but increasingly experimenting with sculpture.  By the mid 20's he was carving significant works in marble and stone.  By the early 30's, he abandoned painting entirely in favor of a new art form, sculpture. I t was in sculpture that Zorach found his true voice as an artist and achieved considerable success. "Sculpture, direct carving, was an expanding universe, a liberation and a natural form of expression to me." Zorach stated.

Zorach's paintings and sculpture are part of the permanent collections of over fifty institutions and museums, including the Smithsonian, Museum of Fine Art-Boston, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Portland Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

2008 Levis Fine Art, Inc.

Biography from Mark Borghi Fine Art Inc:
Reared in poverty, Zorach was apprenticed to a Cleveland, Ohio, lithographic workshop when he was about twelve. By the age of twenty, in 1907, he had not only learned his craft but saved enough to study at the National Academy of Design in New York and, later, at Jacques-Emile Blanche's atelier in Paris. While there, he exhibited his early conservative paintings in the influential 1911 Salon de Automne, and he met Marguerite Thompson, the gifted California painter who later became his wife.

Both Zorachs were eventually influenced in their work by the paintings they had seen at 27 rue de Fleurus, in Gertrude and Leo Stein's impressive collection of Post-Impressionist, Fauvist, and Cubist canvases. Subsequently, both Zorachs were then represented in the legendary Sixty-Ninth Regimental Armory Show in 1913 that forever changed Americans ideas about art.

William Zorach was among the early painters whom Charles Daniel represented in his New York gallery, along with Charles Demuth. The two painters probably met on Cape Cod, where they were among those who founded the Provincetown Players there in 1914. Back in New York, Zorach designed sets for the company and even appeared in one of Eugene ONeills early plays.

Like Demuth, Zorach soon grew disenchanted with Charles Daniel's bookkeeping and questionable payments for work sold at his gallery. (Demuth said he was a crook,- a nice crook, but a crook.) After four years with Daniel, Zorach broke away to exhibit his and his wife's work in their Greenwich Village studio. Not long afterward, he abandoned painting entirely in favor of sculpture, a medium in which he achieved considerable success during a long career.

I always feel that my picture is a thing that must live by itself and not the representation of some little corner of nature," he said to art critic Henry McBride in 1917. "In each one I organize a little world that I hope will strike in the heart of the spectator similar emotions to those that events in my own life have struck within me. Life to me is full of wonder and fancy and the mystery of a strange subconscious beyond, that we can only grasp fragments of, when our senses are keyed up to their highest emotional receptivity."

Biography from Abby M Taylor Fine Art:
William Zorach, was an American sculptor who was born in Lithuania.  His family immigrated to the United States when he was four and settled near Cleveland.  After studying at the Cleveland School of Art and the National Academy of Design, New York City, Zorach spent two years in France.

Shortly after his return to the United States, he took up permanent residence in New York.  In 1922 he turned from painting to sculpture.  Without formal training in this field he evolved a personal and monumental style that placed him among the foremost sculptors of his day.

Carving mainly in stone and in wood, he is known for the simplicity and solidity of his forms. 

His works are in many private and public collections. In New York the Whitney Museum owns his Pegasus and Future Generation; the Radio City Music Hall has his Spirit of the Dance.

Zorach taught at the Art Students League.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2008)

Biography from
Of his experiences in Yosemite National Park, Zorach wrote in his autobiography, Art Is My Life, "I spent five months in the Yosemite Valley sketching, drawing, painting, and doing watercolors. . . Never had I dreamed of such awe-inspiring magnitude, such beauty and grandeur of forms.  The tremendous waterfalls dropping from the blue sky thousands of feet into the valley, the domes and mountains of granite, the silent lakes, the rushing streams, the giant sequoias with their delicate fern-like needles and tremendous slabs of bark.  I climbed all over the mountains with a sixty-pound pack of sketching materials and blankets on my back and slept out under the stars, naively undressing at night and putting on my pajamas and freezing until I had to get up and build a fire. The loneliness and vastness were overpowering.  This was the garden of Eden, God's paradise. I sketched and painted in ecstasy."

Source: Barridoff Galleries, Catalogue 8/8/2003

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William Zorach is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
New York Armory Show of 1913
Cornish Colony
San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915

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