William Zorach was born in Lithuania in 1877. When he was four years old his family immigrated to the United States and settled in Cleveland. At the age of fifteen he was apprenticed to a lithographer for whom he worked for three years, studying at the Cleveland School of Art at night. In 1908 Zorach moved to New York to study at the National Academy of Design. In 1910 he traveled to Paris where he first saw European modernist painting. Zorach was particularly attracted to the cubist works of Picasso and the fauve paintings by Matisse and resolved to merge these styles into his art. Four of his paintings were selected for exhibition in the prestigious Salon d’Automne in 1911. Zorach returned to the United States a year later first to Cleveland and then to New York. The first American exhibition of his work was held in his hometown, Cleveland, in 1912, and his paintings were selected for inclusion in the important avant-garde art exhibition, the Armory Show, held in 1913 in New York City. For many years afterward, his paintings and watercolors were included in the foremost exhibitions in the country.
Zorach’s cubist-inspired forms are pleasing and recognizable. His views of towns, harbor scenes, and landscapes are portrayed in fluid and colorful patterns. Some forms are clear, others blurred, while planes of colors and shifting, nuanced outlines suggest mood rather than objective reality.
Beginning in 1923 Zorach spent his summers in Maine. His watercolors of the Maine coast during the early 1920s represent his mature style, when he specialized in watercolor and moved away from oil painting. The Phillips Collection owns three of Zorach’s watercolors from this period.
In 1918 Zorach made his first foray into sculpture, carving figures in wood. Though he turned to sculpture initially as a diversion, he soon discovered it to be his natural medium and subsequently devoted himself entirely to it. Despite his lack of formal training in sculpture, Zorach spent the remainder of his career carving simple, solid figures in stone and in wood. He developed a personal style that was notable for its compactness and sense of monumentality.
Zorach’s work is featured in museums across the country, including The Phillips Collection. He taught at the Art Students League in New York and was recipient of a gold medal for lifetime achievement in sculpture from the National Institute and American Academy of Art and Letters.