ROLPH SCARLETT (1889-1984)
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A major exponent of non-objective painting, Rolph Scarlett's career and artistic philosophy is closely linked with the early history of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Scarlett was born in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, in 1889. During his childhood he received painting lessons from his grandmother. He later took art classes at the secondary school level. Upon graduating, he began an apprenticeship in his family's jewelry firm, where he learned to design and execute settings for precious and semi-precious stones. In 1907 Scarlett travelled to New York in order to refine his skills as a craftsman. He returned to Canada in 1914 and for several years continued to work in the family business.
In 1918, Scarlett emigrated permanently to the United States. Over the next few years, he worked as a commercial designer in New York and Toledo and painted during his spare time. He also spent many years in Southern California, designing sets for the Pasadena Playhouse and for various motion pictures. During a trip to Europe in 1923, he was introduced to the work of Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, both of whom exerted important influences on his art.
Scarlett settled in New York City in 1936. He soon learned of the collection of art being formed by Solomon and Irene Guggenheim under the direction of the German-born curator, Hilla Rebay. The group of paintings assembled by Rebay, which included works by Kandinsky and Klee, was established in 1939 as Art of Tomorrow, the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, and is known today as the Guggenheim Museum.
Scarlett subsequently attended Rebay's lectures on modern art and sent her numerous examples of his work. By this time, he had developed a non-objective geometric style, distinguished by a poetic delicacy and a unique sensitivity towards color. Rebay eventually became one of Scarlett's strongest supporters, awarding him a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1938, and acquiring many of his paintings for the Guggenheim collection. Scarlett, who shared Rebay's belief that art was a reflection of the spirit, also served as the Guggenheim Museum's chief lecturer from 1939 until 1947. In this respect, he played an important role in disseminating Rebay's theories about art.
Scarlett spent his later years in Woodstock, New York, where he divided his time between painting and jewelry design. Examples of his work can be found in many public collections, including the Museum of Art, at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, and the University of Guelph. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum owns over sixty of Scarlett's oils, watercolors, and drawings.
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