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 Sarah Ann Shreve Molarsky  (1876 - 1971)

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Lived/Active: Pennsylvania/Massachusetts/New Jersey      Known for: paintings, illustrations, art education

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Sarah Ann Shreve Molarsky (1876-1971)

Painter and illustrator Sarah Ann Shreve Molarsky was born in 1876 in the town of White Horse in Burlington County, New Jersey.  She came from a Quaker family whose roots stretched back to pre-revolutionary America.

After attending Swarthmore College (1894-1986), Sarah Shreve left to study painting with William Merritt Chase and Cecilia Beaux at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, then pursued illustration at the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia.

She was proud to tell anyone who would listen about her Quaker lineage--one of her ancestors was an aide-de-camp to General George Washington, while another had been accused of witchcraft and hung on Boston Common.  But she flouted the social convention of her day by marrying a poor Russian Jew, fellow painter Abraham Molarsky (1880-1955).  Although both had lived in Philadelphia—he in the Jewish ghetto and she in a "better" neighborhood—they met in Paris, where the bohemian milieu probably encouraged more mixing of the classes than was common in the staid "City of Brotherly Love."

The Shreve-Molarsky courtship began in 1905, when Shreve and her friend, painter and illustrator Anne Estelle Rice (1877-1959), set off for Europe, where Rice had an assignment to illustrate the latest fashions. A green-hued portrait of Shreve done by Rice around that time shows a somber, contemplative young woman--an image somewhat at odds with the gay tales the women later told about their youth.

In Paris that winter, they met the brothers Abraham and Morris Molarsky, both painters from Philadelphia. Morris (1885-1950) was on a study-abroad scholarship from the Pennsylvania Academy and his brother Abe shared his studio on the Rue de Vaurigard.  Upon arrival in Paris, Shreve and Rice took a studio on the Rue de la Grande-Chaumière where—according to their stories—they devoted the season as much to partying as to painting.

Before long, Shreve returned to Philadelphia, and soon married Abe.  Rice stayed in Paris, where she would become a fauvist and part of the circle that included artists John Duncan Fergusson and Samuel John Peploe, and writers Katherine Mansfield and Theodore Dreisser.  Morris Molarsky changed his name to the more Parisian-sounding "Maurice" and eventually returned to Philadelphia, where he became a successful painter of society portraits.

Life was more difficult for the newly-married Sarah Shreve Molarsky and her husband Abe.  They were primarily landscape painters, influenced by the French Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, more interested in roaming the fields and woods with their easels, to capture the moment in light and color, than in hobnobbing with affluent art collectors to promote their careers.

In 1910 they moved to the Boston area, where Sarah got illustration work and gave birth to sons Osmond and Delmar.  In 1913, Abe had a well-reviewed one-man show of pastels at the Doll & Richards Gallery.  Like many of their artistic contemporaries, the Molarskys summered in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where the wharves, gardens and sea provided endless subjects for their canvasses.

After six years in New England, the Molarsky family moved to New Jersey and--in 1918--settled in Nutley, which had a thriving artists colony.  Sarah remained in Nutley, painting, illustrating and teaching, until her husband's death in 1955.

Sarah's illustration work included two children's books, Knight of the West Side and Carlotta of the Rancho.  Over the span of her career, she exhibited paintings and pastels at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Corcoran Gallery, the Montclair Art Museum, the Newark Art Museum, and the City Art Museum of St. Louis, among other venues. 

She died in Philadelphia in 1971 at the age of 95.

Copyright 2008 Mona Molarsky

Sources include:
family stories from her son Osmond Molarsky (who is now 98 years old) and my father, Delmar Molarsky (now deceased), listings from Who's Who in  American Art from the 1950s, the published writings and personal  emails of Carol A. Nathanson (who has written about fauvist Anne  Estelle Rice, a friend of my grandmother's) and my own research on  the internet and on

Written by Mona Molarsky (granddaughter of Sarah Ann Shreve Molarsky)

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