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 William Meyerowitz  (1887 - 1981)

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: genre, marine, still life, figure

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William Meyerowitz
from Auction House Records.
Mending the Nets
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A painter and etcher, William Meyerowitz came to the United States in 1908 and was a student at the National Academy of Design in New York. As a portraitist, he painted the likenesses of Alfred Einstein and other notables, and as an etcher, he was an innovator in color etching techniques.

He was married to Theresa Bernstein, who also wrote a book about her husband. He belonged to numerous organizations including the Audubon Society of Artists, which he served as director from 1960 to 1967; the Rockport Art Association, and the North Shore Art Association at Gloucester.

From 1930 to 1940, he taught at the Settlement House in New York and from 1940 to 1945 taught at the Modern School of Self Expression.

Source: Peter Falk, "Who Was Who in American Art"

Biography from Hollis Taggart Galleries (Artists, E-O):
One of America’s most versatile modernists, William Meyerowitz painted a rich variety of subjects working in both realist and cubist modes. Whether capturing the movements of a dancer, the activity of ships in Gloucester harbor, or a still life of a bowl of fruit in the tradition of Cezanne, Meyerowitz’s works exhibit an “expressive and metaphorical use of color and form” as well as a lively “rhythmic, tonal dimension that allows [them] to exist beyond the visual.” (1) The nuances and diversity in Meyerowitz’s paintings, prints, and sculpture, were nurtured through his friendships with many of America’s premier artists. These included the ashcan painters William Glackens and John Sloan, realists such as Reginald Marsh and Edward Hopper, and the modernists Alfred Stieglitz, Charles Demuth, Stuart Davis, Oscar Bleumner, and Marcel Duchamp. According to Theresa Berstein Meyerowitz, William’s wife and biographer, Meyerowitz was particularly close to Duchamp and he and Marcel would often spend hours talking or playing chess.

Meyerowitz began his artistic career as an apprentice to a sign painter in his native Esterinoslav, Russia, where he was born in 1887. In 1908, Meyerowitz and his father immigrated to the United States and settled in New York City. A few years later, after having raised the funds, they brought the rest of the family over from Russia. Meyerowitz spent most of the remainder of his life—except for a five-month trip to Europe in 1922—in America and divided his time between Manhattan and a second home in Gloucester, Massachusetts, during the summer months.

During his first decade in America, Meyerowitz used his singing talent as a chorus member at the Metropolitan Opera and his drawing skills in an architectural firm to earn a living, while pursuing his passion for art. From 1912 to 1916, he took classes at the National Academy of Design. His instructors at the Academy included painter William Merritt Chase and etcher Charles Mielatz. He also took “a full curriculum of drawing and painting courses” at the school. (2) In 1917, he won an honorable mention in the Prix de Rome and the same year Meyerowitz also became involved in the New York art scene as one of the founders of the People’s Art Guild, an organization that arranged exhibitions of contemporary art in neighborhood settlement houses around Manhattan. Through this group, he met fellow painter Theresa Bernstein and the two married in 1919.

Throughout the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, Meyerowitz exhibited regularly across the United States and was also a teacher. Through shows at the Whitney Studio Club he met other modernists such as Charles Sheeler, Niles Spencer, and Stuart Davis. He also participated in the annual exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Carnegie Institute, the Salons of America, and the Society of Independent Artists (SIA). It was through the SIA that he met Marcel Duchamp, who became a close confidante and with whom Meyerowitz played chess. Duchamp admired and championed Meyerowitz’s art. Between 1930 and 1945, Meyerowitz taught art at several settlement houses in New York and at the Modern School of Self Expression.(3)

It was through Bernstein that Meyerowitz was introduced to the artists’ colony of Gloucester, Massachusetts, and the couple became permanent fixtures of the summer art scene there for over six decades. They became friends with many of the other artists who summered in Gloucester and the surrounding area including Childe Hassam, John Sloan, William Glackens, Ellen Day Hale, and Gabrielle de Vaux Clements. The Meyerowitzs became especially close with Hale and Clements, artists with whom William shared a passion for experimental printmaking. Their pioneering efforts in this field attracted the attention of their colleagues, but it was Meyerowitz’s innovative techniques that became the subject of a film, "The Magic Needle," produced in 1925 by the Fox Film Company.(4)

During their stays in Massachusetts, the couple exhibited their work at the Gallery on the Moors, the Gloucester Society of Artists, and the North Shore Arts Association. Meyerowitz was a founder of the North Shore Art Association and served as vice-president of the organization for a few years. He was also a member of the NAD, the SIA, and the Allied Artists of America, for which he was a director. Meyerowitz’s earliest paintings and prints were realistic; however, he soon began absorbing and adapting modernistic aesthetics to create his own abstracted pictorial language of colors and forms. He is regarded as one of America’s foremost printmakers and “at several stages [in his career], his printmaking seems to have been more creative and significant than his etching.”(5) His explorations in this arena often led to new developments in his paintings and watercolors. While Meyerowitz experimented with abstraction in both his prints and paintings, he never completely abandoned the representational mode and often oscillated between traditional and modern approaches in his work throughout his career. His subjects included Jewish life on New York’s Lower East Side, the Gloucester harbor and fisherman, beach scenes of New England, still lifes, nudes, animals, and portraits—such as his likenesses of Oliver Wendell Holmes and Albert Einstein. Because of his background in music and opera, Meyerowitz also had a great interested in the performing arts and often chose subjects such as dancers and musicians for his paintings and prints. In all of his art Meyerowitz was most interested in the expressive use of form and color. “Art” he wrote “expressed for us the fundamental rhythms and harmonies that are craved by our souls. A work of art is a creation more in harmony with the essence of nature than the haphazard array of things actually about us.”(6)

William Meyerowitz had a heart attack in 1961, but continued to create paintings and prints for two more decades, until his death May 28, 1981. His work is represented in collections including the Phillips Collection, Washington; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Brooklyn Museum; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Smithsonian American Art Museum; the Columbus Museum, Georgia; the Montgomery Museum of Art; the Corcoran Gallery of Art; the Library of Congress; the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris; the Whitney Museum of American Art; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

1. David Hall, “William Meyerowitz: Modernist,” "American Art Review" 13 (January-February 2001), 148.
2. Ibid.
3. www.askart.com
4. Hall, 153.
5. Jonathan Bober, "The Etchings of William Meyerowitz," Austin: University of Texas at Austin, 1996, 3.
6. Quoted in Hall, 148.

© Copyright 2008 Hollis Taggart Galleries

Biography from The Columbus Museum of Art, Georgia:
There are various dates given for William Meyerowitz’ birth, from 1885-1887.(1) Records indicate that he emigrated from Russia with his father to New York in 1908, leaving the rest of his family behind.(2)  They took up quarters in the Lower East Side of New York on Orchard Street.  Through a childhood job with an architect, he began to show promise with his drawing.  He studied at the National Academy of Design from 1912-1916, and won honorable mention in the Prix de Rome in 1917.

He was elected to full membership to the National Academy in 1953. His talent showed early in his student years, and he was awarded several first prizes in both drawing and etching.  During this time of development, he also taught art and earned money by performing in the Metropolitan Opera Chorus in its Italian and German repertoire.  In 1917 Meyerowitz was a founding member of the People’s Art Guild and a member of the Society of Independent Artists.  He married fellow artist Theresa Bernstein (who had attended the Philadelphia Academy of Art) in 1919.

Meyerowitz spent 1922-23 in Europe visiting art galleries and gathering material for his work.  On his return, he won honorable mention at the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts. Critics were pleased with his interpretation of the American Scene.  He was doing etchings with his own method, applying color directly to the metal plate. Among his most famous etchings are a series on Supreme Court Justices.

Meyerowitz made a definite contribution to the technical development of the art of etching.  His works were featured in various exhibits around the country and purchased for private collections.  The subject matter had wide appeal.  In New York, he painted and drew the vibrant Jewish life of the Lower East Side, musicians, dancers and artists with whom he associated.  He also enjoyed painting the horses in Central Park.  When at his studio in Gloucester, the varied colors and shapes of the harbor and hills, boats and trees offered him constant material to stimulate his talent. His approach to the composition evokes Cézanne’s views of rooftops in Southern France.  Whereas Cézanne used the cone, sphere and the cube as his means for expressing nature, Meyerowitz conveyed dynamic relations between the forms.(3) Meyerowitz enjoyed placing motion within the structure of his paintings, and he felt that the viewer would grasp the notion of motion in seeing the totality of the picture.(4)

While the Meyerowitz paintings seem at first glance cheerful, decorative, scenic, they disclose a studious manipulation.  They are worked out with consummate care so that planes are interrelated as though they had a structural bearing one upon another.  The painter has handled the material with a moderate degree of abstraction after the manner of analytical cubism.(5)  The artist’s work is represented in the permanent collections of the Columbus Museum, Georgia Museum of Art, Montgomery Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Phillips Collection, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, among others.

Footnote:
1. Theresa Bernstein Meyerowitz, William Meyerowitz: The Artist Speaks (Philadelphia: The Art Alliance Press, 1986), 9.
2. The rest of the family immigrated several years later after they had earned enough for their passage.
3. Meyerowitz, 75. 4. Meyerowitz, 74.
5. Robert S. Berlin and Jonathan Weil, William Meyerowitz (1885-1981): An Appreciation, unpublished memorial, 1981.
Submitted by the Staff of the Columbus Museum

Biography from Zigler Museum:
William Meyerowitz was born in Russia, July 15, 1896. In 1908 he came to New York where, from 1912 to 1916, he studied at the National Academy of Design. Indeed, Mr. Meyerowitz is proud of the fact that he has received all his training in the United States. In 1922-1923 the artist traveled extensively in Europe. He later made several plates for etching inspired by this journey. Aside from the various activities by which he assisted himself through his student years, Mr. Meyerowitz’s entire life has been given over to his painting and etching which he pursues with great devotion, seeking the reward of artistic attainment rather than acclaim. One is not surprised to learn that he finds his avocation in music.

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