American Impressionism · American Women Artists · Essay

Marguerite Zorach and the Park Avenue Cubists


Marguerite Zorach, Flowers and Shells II, 1956, Hawthorne Fine Art, New York City.

When we discuss women artists, it is crucial to remember that their careers were often defined by limited access to education and proper means for exhibition. In the case of Marguerite Zorach, who was born in Santa Rosa, California in 1887, the artist was one of only a few women admitted to Stanford University in 1908. While art historians frequently categorize artists as either “trained” or “untrained (/amateur),” a category of female artists arose in the early years of gender desegregation who were not amateurs but were nevertheless minorities among their classmates. The small group of painters referred to as the Park Avenue Cubists, in another example, became defined by their use of art forms avant la lettre while simultaneously living in cloistered privilege in Manhattan far from the Montparnasse scene.[1]

After studying post-impressionism at the Académie de La Palette in Paris under John Duncan Fergusson and Jacques-Emile Blanche, Zorach moved to New York City in 1912 with her husband. Both submitted artwork to the 1913 Armory Show and both were invited to participate in the 1916 Forum Exhibition of Modern American Painters. Marguerite Zorach’s parallels with Fauvism and Impressionism generally, as well as the influence of Matisse’s dark outlines and Picasso’s jutting Cubist forms, are on clear display in the work Flowers and Shells II from 1956 at Hawthorne Fine Art. Through this pastel vision of a side table and vase, Zorach transformed her mundane yet luxurious surroundings into a modernist masterpiece.

The frameworks of class and gender are deeply implicated in this work; while it doesn’t matter that it was painted by an upper class woman, knowing that fact makes it more interesting. That Zorach and her husband were well off (they summered at their home in Georgetown, Maine) is significant insofar as this circumstance allowed her to continue painting despite persistent obstacles. In this sense, Zorach is unique among her peers, as her work allows for the discussion of class and gender separate from the issues of “quality” in women’s art or the modernist “canon.” In her New York City interior Flowers and Shells II, therefore, and like many of her peers in the Park Avenue Cubist group, Zorach simply desired to “further the Parisian avant-garde tradition not then fully appreciated in America” rather than critique or subvert aesthetics.[2]

Lizzie Frasco

[1] The Park Avenue Cubists include: Albert E. Gallatin, Charles G. Shaw, Suzy Frelinghuysen and George L. K. Morris. For more information about this group, see the 2003 exhibition “The Park Avenue Cubists: Gallatin, Morris, Frelinghuysen and Shaw” at the Grey Art Gallery at New York University. The “Montparnasse scene” generally refers to the area of Paris where several famous artists had studios, including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, Diego Rivera and Marc Chagall, among others.

[2] Glueckjan, Grace. “ART REVIEW; Cubists Living in Luxury, Not Bohemian Garrets,” The New York Times, January 24, 2003.



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