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 Abram Molarsky  (1880 - 1955)

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Lived/Active: New Jersey/Massachusetts / Russian Federation      Known for: landscape-urban, portrait, marine painting

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Abraham (Abram) Molarsky is primarily known as Abram Molarsky

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Ad Code: 4
Abram Molarsky
from Auction House Records.
View of the Harbor
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following was submitted December 2003 by Mona Molarsky, granddaughter of the artist. This biography was written by Osmond Molarsky, son of the artist, "now 94 years old".

My father was born of Jewish parents near Kiev, Ukraine in 1880 and came to the United States with his family in 1890, after a sojourn of several years in London, never relinquishing elements of a Cockney accent.  He talked very little of his past, but his father probably was a tailor, and "Abe" must have learned something about tailoring, judging from some cool clothes he made for my brother, Delmar, and me when we were small. We were very proud of them.

The family settled in Philadelphia, where my father became the obligatory violinist in the Jewish family, playing for a while in the newly formed Philadelphia Symphony.

Meanwhile, his younger brother Morris (later transformed to Maurice, in Paris) was distinguishing himself at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts as star student of William Merritt Chase. To my father, this seemed a greener field, and he enrolled at the Academy while still playing with the symphony.

When Morris won a grant from the Academy to study in Paris, my father went with him and shared his Left Bank studio there, the arrangement meeting with some disapproval from Academy officials. (My father had not distinguished himself as a student, scorning drawing from "the pink antique"--plaster busts and body parts--and not always painting by the rules. However, he had great praise for an Academy instructor, Thomas Anschutz.) One of the stories from the Paris era was of Micha Elman, a young violin virtuoso in knee breeches, at the start of his career, visiting the studio and demanding to see some nudes.

In Paris my father met my mother, nee Sarah Ann Shreve, descendent of an old Quaker family, with two years at Swarthmore College before studying art for a year with Cecilia Beau at the Pennsylvania Academy and then later attending Drexel Institute, where she pursued an interest in illustration.  Later she illustrated children's books and achieved some success at painting, winning an Honorable Mention for a pastel at The Watercolor Show, circa 1930.  Mother had gone to Paris with painter Anne Estelle Rice, with whom she had shared a studio in Philadelphia. Rice stayed in Europe, becoming a noted exponent of the Fauve school and an intimate of Katherine Mansfield, Virginia Woolf and others of the Bloomsbury Group, corresponding with Sarah during that period.  A Rice retrospective was held in New York at the Hollis Taggart Galleries in 1997.

Abraham, who signed his name and his work "Abram", probably in rejection of the Jewish label (I did not learn we were Jewish until I was in my twenties) did his first known painting on Boston's South Shore, near Wollaston Beach and Weymouth, where we lived briefly in 1909, the year of my birth.  His early work was "Post Impressionist",
colorful but in low key- beachscapes and what he called "gray days", misty scenes of
"villages", clusters of houses seen through trees. He called these works "Twachtmans," and that period doubtless was influenced by the early American Impressionist, John Henry Twachtman.

A clipping from the Boston Globe, 1913, reviews Molarsky's one-man show of pastels at Doll & Richards Gallery.  "His color is delicate, refined and harmonious," the reviewer said of the collection of twenty-seven New England landscapes.  He used the medium much as he used paint, working with thick, square-cut, brilliant American pastels on fine sandpaper, presaging his later generous use of palette knife.  His mantra to his students was, "See color."  When they failed to see color, he demonstrated on their work and sent them home with finished but unsigned Molarskys.  He painted swiftly, with total assurance in the effect he wished to capture, sometimes appearing as a conductor leading an orchestra.  Since he was ambidextrous, he sometimes painted with a brush in each hand.  He was short in stature, which in no way diminished his confidence.

Although Abe continued to do pastels from time to time, he worked mostly in oil on gunny sack burlap rather than fine canvas, sizing it himself, retaining the rough texture he preferred. He experimented with a succession of styles, each however essentially his own brand of Post Impressionism.  Some of his works have a flavor of scenes from grand operas or ballets and may have been evoked by childhood memories of Russian landscapes. During this period he sketched out of doors in Provincetown, Gloucester and in the then bosky neighborhood of Nutley, in northern New Jersey, working up the sketches in his studio during the winters. In 1917 we settled in Nutley, where he had his studio and painted until his death in 1955.

Until the forties, he was represented in all major American shows in The National Academy, Pennsylvania Academy, Corcoran Biannual, Pittsburgh International, the Watercolor Show, always by invitation and often with prominent hangings.  By the mid-1940s he was beginning to get rejections, in favor of modern nonrepresentational work and eventually ceased to submit to shows but continued to paint, sell work and teach.  From early in his career, he was represented by the Milch Galleries in New York.
None of his work is to be found in major collections, in part because he failed to take opportunities to promote himself as a painter.  He ignored an invitation to join the prestigious Salmagundi Club, and when The Corcoran expressed an interest in acquiring a painting in a Biannual show and asked the price, he replied, "The price is in the catalog."  He felt justified when he sold the painting to another buyer for the catalog price.  This attitude left him admired by painters but not in phase with juries awarding prizes.

There is no basis for comparison between the work of the Brothers Molarsky.  Portraits and still lifes by Maurice are elegant, beautifully drafted and in strict academic tradition. Abram's landscapes, in their several modes, are the expression of a vigorous, singular artist, painting for the most part in no defined school or style.  Each is distinctive in his own manner.  Although the portraits and still lifes by his brother are elegant and better known, Abram's work probably commands more critical respect for its originality and adventurous subjects.

A number of his paintings from all periods are in the possession of his granddaughter, Mona Molarsky, of New York City.  Others belong to his grandson, Michael Molarsky, of Kennebunk, Maine.

Exhibitions: National Academy of Design, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Corcoran Gallery of Art Biannual, the Carnegie International and the Watercolor Show,
(pastels). Regionally, he showed at the Montclair Museum of Art (Montclair, New Jersey) and the Newark Museum (Newark, New Jersey).

Abram Molarsky and Sarah Shreve Molarsky had two sons, Osmond Molarsky and Delmar Molarsky.  Delmar had two children, Mona and Michael Molarsky, who currently live in New York City and Kennebunk, Maine, respectively.  Maurice Molarsky and his wife, Tina Margolis, had no children.


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