William Zorach: Moonlight

September 27, 2012

Moonlight (Swimmer), 1916. William Zorach (1887–1966). Oil on canvas, 34 x 18 inches. Museum purchase, 2012.

Modern Art to my generation was a spiritual awaking, a freeing of Art from the idea of copying Nature. We entered into a whole new world of form and color that opened up before us. —William Zorach, 1931

In the early 20th century, William Zorach was in the vanguard of American art. His paintings, prints, and sculptures reflected his interest in European modernist art. With its vivid color and stylized, angular forms, Moonlight is a perfect example—a fusion of Fauvism and Cubism, inflected with the artist’s own decorative sensibility.

Zorach discovered modern art with the help of his wife, the artist Marguerite Zorach (1887–1968). The Zorachs met at a progressive art academy, La Palette, in Paris. Marguerite was the more radical of the two, introducing William to post-impressionist art and frequenting the salon of Leo Stein. Returning to the United States, they settled in Greenwich Village, then a hotbed of artistic and literary innovation. Both Zorachs exhibited works in the Armory Show of 1913, the landmark exhibition that introduced European modernism to a broad American public. In 1915 they befriended Max Weber and were drawn into the circle of modern artists around Alfred Stieglitz’s New York gallery, 291. The Zorachs spent the summer of 1916 in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where they designed sets for the avant-garde theatrical troupe, the Provincetown Players. The decorative composition of this work—which would seem at home in an Art Deco theater—reflects that moment.

By 1916, the Zorachs were gaining national attention. They were called “the most futurist of the futurists” in the Boston Globe, but William Zorach would paint few more radical canvasses. Within the year, he was experimenting with sculpture, and that is the medium for which he would become most famous. The Delaware Art Museum owns three other works by William Zorach—two sculptures and a relief print—and three drawings by Marguerite Zorach.

Heather Campbell Coyle
Curator of American Art

This Curator Corner was posted on September 27, 2012.

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