“…the things that have touched my life” –Marguerite Zorach, 1936[1]

Marguerite Zorach strove for balance as an artist, wife and mother, beginning early in her career. Elements of design and domesticity intermingled in the rich fullness of her paintings, textiles and poems. The creative and living quarters of her homes linked her internal and external worlds.

Sensitive to the fusion of culture and visual stimuli during travels abroad, her work reflected precedents in Renaissance tapestries, Chinese scroll paintings, Persian and Indian miniatures, red Greek vase figures, and in the intrinsic charm and sophistication of international folk art.  She was delighted by sensual performances of Isadora Duncan  as well as the music and staging of the Ballet Russe, with its sets and costuming drawn from medieval tapestries, shimmering brocades, Indonesian batiks, Persian or Indian miniatures, fluttering Greek or Roman drapery—an opulence of pattern  and movement.  In her ability to recognize what was meaningful in her world Zorach ventured forth as an artist into New York’s lively cultural scene, discarding many of the traditions imposed by her upbringing, yet achieving credibility as a progressive artist while coming to embrace the time-honored institution of the family. Like other American modernist women struggling to achieve balance as artists, artistic and marriage partners, and mothers, she allowed professional and personal arenas to overlap and successfully merge.

bianco painting Zorach

Marguerite Zorach, (born 1887, Santa Rosa, California –died 1968, Brooklyn, New York), Land and Development of New England, 1935, Oil on canvas; 96 x 78 inches, Farnsworth Museum purchase, 1991.17, © The Zorach Collection LLC 
CAPTION: Its imagery incorporates Zorach’s role as wife and mother within an idealized, hard-working, pioneer family in harmony with the bountiful resources of the New England region. The visual references to lumbering, coastal communities and farming—and including the detail of the LL Bean boots–indicates as well, her family’s place in Maine.


In this work-and-life blend Zorach aimed for personal style in her art, developing a focus on relationships, especially those between male and female, and between parent and child.  Her paintings and textiles made through 1920, with their dual figurative and abstract leanings, introduce motifs and autobiographical elements that recur throughout her body of work over her lifetime. Zorach encouraged all family members in their creative pursuits in a household headed by artist-parents, who reinforced their growing children’s confidence and sense of wonder. Both William and Marguerite Zorach portrayed their children and each other, especially in their more emblematic designs.

And while Marguerite Zorach incorporated family into her work she also managed many domestic responsibilities in tandem with her art. Her husband William Zorach commented that   “Marguerite was frustrated at not having any uninterrupted time for painting…with caring for two small children, cooking, and running a house.” Though he suggested that “she felt the care of the house and children was the responsibility of both of us,” many of the household duties were taken on by her alone.[2]

The oscillating effects of this private role perhaps armed her for critical analysis of women’s roles as artists in the public arena. Although partnered in life with a fellow artist who was an advocate of her work, she was vocal about the favoritism generally granted to male artists and their careers. As president of the New York Society of Women Artists she commented in 1925, that “dealers take men artists under their wing and promote them, push them as a good business proposition, but they refuse to take women artists seriously.” She further claimed that expectations imposed upon women over the ages had limited their participation as artists: “Women are new in art, as in every other extra-home activity…”  [3]

According to William she “was happy to…make her clothes and the children’s.” Her imaginative clothing made from her own fabric designs and needlework are stunning pieces of art. While she was to write amusing letters from their summer home in Georgetown, Maine–

Tessim is out getting a hunting license. Bill is turning out a hundred watercolors a day—I’m embroidering—doggone it—and Dahlov is collecting green worms which she expects to turn into handsome butterflies—the house is full of them—each has his own box and food.[4]

–indicating that she merrily juggled art and cooking, gardening and looking after an assortment of visitors and animals at the summer home, her letters also indicate that she was happy when she could be all alone to paint or garden.

Zorach designed and nurtured flower gardens wherever she lived, and employed garden imagery in her art to represent the spirit of the modern age. Her garden tableau of 1914, now at the Portland Museum of Art, depicts nature tamed by human intervention.[5] It is a visual metaphor for Du Bois’s observation that “Art is the restraint constructing order out of chaos…life is the root, the plant; art the gardener…”[6]  Yet Zorach also depicted the garden as a place to “throw off the veil of art’s traditions that is hung between us and nature.”[7]  Her idyllic settings of pagan figures disposed among flora and fauna—particularly on the walls of her summer home—became the essence of the abandon she felt through her art.

Within her homes, at once stage and repository for her work, her paintings covered walls adjoining spaces with sculpture and drawings by her husband and children. Her hooked rugs and painted silks became wall hangings. She painted furniture, floors and walls and arranged folk art finds amid other decorative elements that interfaced with family life. She covered the walls of a room in the family’s summer home with Edenic vignettes of Adam and Eve amid animals hidden in ferns, birds and insects. Thus, while striking a balance between family and art she more often set the idea of home as a place beyond actual boundaries of space and circumstance—elevating passages from her life into imaginary scenes of domestic bliss amid idyllic landscapes.

Image at top of page: Marguerite, Tessim and Dahlov, from Dahlov Ipcar archives and Archives of American Art# 1.


[1] “The Tapestries of Marguerite Zorach,” Design, Vol 38, (June 1936) p. 3. For a more expansive view of Marguerite Zorach’s career see Bianco, Jane, Betsy Fahlman, and Cynthia Fowler. Marguerite Zorach: An Art-Filled Life; catalogue  published on the occasion of the exhibition at the Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, Maine, June 17, 2017-January 7, 2018.

[2] William Zorach, Art is My Life: the Autobiography of William Zorach (Cleveland: The World Publishing Company, 1967), 56.

[3] Rebecca Hourwich, “Art Has No Sex,” in Equal Rights Magazine, Vol. XII No. 44 (Saturday, December 12, 1925), 349-50.  Dahlov Ipcar Archives.

[4] Downtown Gallery Records, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution,  (Reel 5556-frame 960).

[5] Marguerite Thompson Zorach, The Garden, c. 1914; Oil, charcoal on canvas; 30 x 36 inches, Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Museum purchase with a major gift from an anonymous donor and support from the Friends of the Collection, the Bernstein Acquisition Fund, The Peggy and Harold Osher Acquisition Fund, and Mrs. Alexander R. Fowler, Barbara M. Goodbody, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Konkel, David and Sandra Perloff, John and Gale Shonle, and Roger and Katherine Woodman, 1998.111.

[6] The quote is from Guy Pène du Bois, “The Spirit and the Chronology of the Modern Movement,” in Arts & Decoration, Vol. 3, No. 5 (March 1913), 151.  (As editor of Arts & Decoration, painter Guy Pène du Bois had written for this special edition of the magazine devoted to the Armory Show.)

[7]Ibid., 178.