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Rolph Scarlett

 (1889 - 1984)
Rolph Scarlett was active/lived in New York, California / Canada.  Rolph Scarlett is known for non objective-geometric, modernist-leaning landscape painting.

Rolph Scarlett

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Rolph Scarlett
Rolph Scarlett was a painter of geometric abstraction during the American avant-garde movement of the 1930s and 1940s.

Born in Guelph, Ontario, Canada in 1889, he left Canada at the age of 18 to go to New York City and returned to Canada during the years of World War I.  However, by 1924 he had established New York City as his home.  While he was beginning his career as an abstract painter, he was designing stage scenery for George Bernard Shaw's  play, Man and Superman and for the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall.

In 1939, while in the process of creating the Museum of Non-Objective Painting (later the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum), Director Hilla Rebay began to take an interest in Scarlett's work.  By 1940 he had become the new museum's chief lecturer.

By 1953, the Guggenheim owned nearly sixty of his paintings and monoprints.  He later became a resident of the Woodstock art colony for more than twenty-five years and showed his work in the Woodstock exhibits.

Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art
James Cox Gallery

Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for Rolph Scarlett
Born in Canada on June 13, 1889, Rolph Scarlett lived in southern California during 1928 to 1936.  While there, he painted and did set designs for the Pasadena Playhouse. Leaving California, he moved to NYC where he remained until his demise in August 1984.

Exhibitions: Hagemeyer Studio (LA), 1930; GGIE, 1939; Seligmann Gallery (NYC), 1949; Tanar Gallery (LA), 1964.

Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786 to 1940

Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Census; Who's Who in American Art 1940; Social Security Death Index (1940-2002).

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 Levis Fine Art
Rolph Scarlett was the first American artist selected to provide paintings alongside Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Rudolf Bauer for Solomon Guggenheim's Museum of Non-objective Painting beginning in 1940.  Throughout his life Scarlett wavered between representational*, geometric*, non-objective* and abstraction*, the latter representing his true voice and passion.

His body of work reflects an artist truly devoted to the exploration and continuation of abstract art, while simultaneously holding onto the romantic conception of the artist being the creator, an idea wholeheartedly rejected by the tenets of Non-Objective art, the works for which he is most well-known.

Scarlett's acceptance into the Museum of Non-Objective painting resulted in a close friendship with its founder, Hilla Rebay, and by 1940, Scarlett had become the new museum's chief lecturer.  Within a decade the Guggenheim owned nearly sixty of his paintings and monoprints.  Rebay and supporting artist Rudolph Bauer offered Scarlett constructive criticism during his position at the Museum.

Although Rebay's support of Scarlett forced him to explore the geometric abstractions (Non-Objective), he continuously stood by his artistic methodology, which is described as "creating an organization that is alive as to color, and form, with challenging and stimulating rhythms, making full use of one's emotional and intuitive creative programming and keeping it under cerebral control, so that when it is finished it is a visual experience that is alive with mysticism and inner order, and has grown into a new world of art governed by authority.

According to Scarlett scholar and author, Harriet Tannin (also his student), Scarlett created a substantial body of pure abstractions, beginning in the 1930's and would continue to do them in secret during his tenure of creating non-objective works for Rebay's Guggenheim, two of which were shown at the Whitney Annual Exhibition in 1951.

His works are represented in the permanent collections of numerous museums including the Guggenheim, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the Smithsonian.

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

Biography from Spanierman Gallery (retired)
A major exponent of non-objective painting, Rolph Scarlett's career and artistic philosophy is closely linked with the early history of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.

Rolph Scarlett was born in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, in 1889. During his childhood he received painting lessons from his grandmother. He later took art classes at the secondary school level. Upon graduating, he began an apprenticeship in his family's jewelry firm, where he learned to design and execute settings for precious and semi-precious stones. In 1907 Rolph Scarlett traveled to New York in order to refine his skills as a craftsman. He returned to Canada in 1914 and for several years continued to work in the family business.

In 1918, Rolph Scarlett emigrated permanently to the United States. Over the next few years, he worked as a commercial designer in New York and Toledo and painted during his spare time. He also spent many years in Southern California, designing sets for the Pasadena Playhouse and for various motion pictures. During a trip to Europe in 1923, he was introduced to the work of Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, both of whom exerted important influences on his art.

Rolph Scarlett settled in New York City in 1936. He soon learned of the collection of art being formed by Solomon and Irene Guggenheim under the direction of the German-born curator, Hilla Rebay. The group of paintings assembled by Rebay, which included works by Kandinsky and Klee, was established in 1939 as Art of Tomorrow, the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, and is known today as the Guggenheim Museum.

Rolph Scarlett subsequently attended Rebay's lectures on modern art and sent her numerous examples of his work. By this time, he had developed a non-objective geometric style, distinguished by a poetic delicacy and a unique sensitivity towards color. Rebay eventually became one of Scarlett's strongest supporters, awarding him a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1938, and acquiring many of his paintings for the Guggenheim collection. Scarlett, who shared Rebay's belief that art was a reflection of the spirit, also served as the Guggenheim Museum's chief lecturer from 1939 until 1947. In this respect, he played an important role in disseminating Rebay's theories about art.

Rolph Scarlett spent his later years in Woodstock, New York, where he divided his time between painting and jewelry design. Examples of his work can be found in many public collections, including the Museum of Art, at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, and the University of Guelph. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum owns over sixty of Scarlett's oils, watercolors, and drawings.


┬ęThe essay herein is the property of Spanierman Gallery, LLC and is copyrighted by Spanierman Gallery, LLC. It may not be reproduced without written permission from Spanierman Gallery, LLC nor shown or communicated to anyone without due credit being given to Spanierman Gallery, LLC.

Biography from Tobin Reese Fine Art
Rolph Scarlett (1889-1984) was a multi-talented New York artist, born in Canada, who primarily worked in the domains of painting and jewelry design. Scarlett is known for geometric abstraction and later in the 1950's he would move on to Abstract Expressionism. He painted in a non-objective style, his painting reflecting the geometric shapes of his sculpted jewelry.

Scarlett was born in Guelph, Ontario. His grandmother taught him painting as a youth and encouraged him to continue his studies at the Art Students League in New York. As a teenager, he took a job working for his uncle's jewelry business where he learned the basics of gem setting. Trips to New York in his late teens and early twenties exposed the artist to abstract artists such as Wassily Kandinsky. After moving to New York, Scarlett took a trip to Europe in 1923 where he met painter Paul Klee who deepened Scarlett's love for and understanding of the modern and abstract. From this point, the influence of both Klee and Kandinsky in Scarlett's work became readily apparent.

In 1928, Scarlett took a job working as the set designer for the Pasadena Playhouse and spent the next eight years in California. In 1936, Scarlett returned to New York. Shortly thereafter, his art caught the eye of curator Hilla Rebay, hired by the Guggenheims to assemble their art collection. At the time, Rebay was also serving as the director of the Museum of Non-Objective Art, a perfect venue in which Scarlett's paintings could be displayed. Their meeting led to a lifelong partnership between the two which allowed Scarlett and his paintings to gain a wider audience. So taken was Rebay with Scarlett's artistic angle and style that she convinced the Guggenheims to purchase many of Rolph Scarlett's paintings, displaying them alongside paintings by Kandinsky. She also made him chief lecturer at her museum, a position he held until the mid 1940s.

After Rebay's departure from the Guggenheim Museum, Scarlett found himself without his most ardent supporter and subsequently moved to Woodstock, New York in the 1960s. He began to focus more on jewelry design and craft as he entered his old age. He passed away in 1984.

Ian Martyn for Tobin Reese Fine Art

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About  Rolph Scarlett

Born:  1889 - Guelph, Ontario, Canada
Died:   1984 - Woodstock, New York
Known for:  non objective-geometric, modernist-leaning landscape painting