ABRAHAM "ABRAM" MOLARSKY (Russian-American, 1883-1955)

Abraham Molarsky was born in Kiev, Russia in 1883.  He spent his next ten years there and in London before coming to America with his parents around 1890.  They settled in Philadelphia where Molarsky learned the violin as a child and played in the Philadelphia Symphony.  Abraham left the symphony to follow his younger brother, Maurice, to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts where they both studied under William Merritt Chase, Cecilia Beaux and Thomas Anshutz.  He then tagged along on Maurice’s grant to study art in Paris.  It was there that he met his wife, Sarah Ann Shreve, who would achieve some success at painting and illustrating later in her own career.  Molarsky signed his works as “Abram” in order to avoid being labeled Jewish according to a biography that his son would provide on him.  His early works were mostly Post Impressionist and probably influenced by a favorite artist of his named John Henry Twachtman.  He was ambidextrous and sometimes painted with a brush in each hand.  Having previously lived and worked in Provincetown and Gloucester, Massachusetts after returning from Paris, Molarsky moved his wife and sons to the neighborhood of Nutley, New Jersey in 1917.  He lived and kept a studio there.  He taught art at Nutley High School.  He continued to paint and sell his work, occasionally exhibiting in shows, until his death in 1955 in New Jersey.

-The following was provided in December 2003 by Mona Molarsky, granddaughter of the artist.  The biography was written by Osmond Molarsky, son of the artist, who was 94 years old at the time: “My father was born of Jewish parents near Kiev, Russia, circa 1880 and came to the United States with his family circa 1890, after a sojourn of several years in London, never relinquishing elements of a Cockney accent.  He talked very little of his past, but his father probably was a tailor, and “Abe” must have learned something about tailoring, judging from some cool clothes he made for my brother, Delmar, and me when we were small.  We were very proud of them.  The family settled in Philadelphia, where my father became the obligatory violinist in the Jewish family, playing for a while in the newly formed Philadelphia Symphony.  Meanwhile, his younger brother Morris (later transformed to Maurice, in Paris) was distinguishing himself at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts as a star student of William Merritt Chase.  To my father, this seemed a greener field, and he enrolled at the Academy while still playing with the symphony.  When Morris won a grant from the Academy to study in Paris, my father went with him and shared his Left Bank studio there, the arrangement meeting with some disapproval from Academy officials.  (My father had not distinguished himself as a student, scorning drawing from “the pink antique”—plaster busts and body parts—and not always painting by the rules.  However, he had great praise for an Academy instructor, Thomas Anschutz.)  One of the stories from the Paris era was of Micha Elman, a young violin virtuoso in knee breeches, at the start of his career, visiting the studio and demanding to see some nudes.  In Paris my father met my mother, nee Sarah Ann Shreve, descendent of an old Quaker family, with tow years at Swarthmore College before studying art for a year with Cecilia Beaux at the Pennsylvania Academy and then later attending Drexel Institute, where she pursued an interest in illustration.  Later she illustrated children’s books and achieved some success at painting, winning an Honorable Mention for a pastel at The Watercolor Show, circa 1930.  Mother had gone to Paris with painter Anne Estelle Rice, with whom she had shared a studio in Philadelphia.  Rice stayed in Europe, becoming a noted exponent of the Fauve school and an intimate of Katherine Mansfield, Virginia Woolf and others of the Bloomsbury Group, corresponding with Sarah during that period.  A Rice retrospective was held in New York at the Hollis Taggart Galleries in 1997.  Abraham, who signed his name and his work “Abram”, probably in refection of the Jewish label (I did not learn we were Jewish until I was in my twenties) did his first known painting on Boston’s South Shore, near Wollaston Beach and was “Post Impressionist”, colorful but in low key—beachscapes and what he called “gray days”, misty scenes of “villages”, clusters of houses seen through. Trees.  He called these works “Twachtmans,” and that period doubtless was influenced by the early American Impressionist, John Henry Twachtman.  A clipping from the Boston Globe, 1913, reviews Molarsky’s one-man show of pastels at Doll & Richards Gallery.  “His color is delicate, refined and harmonious,” the reviewer said of the collection of twenty-seven New England landscapes.  He used the medium much as he used paint, working with thick, square-cut, brilliant American pastels on fine sandpaper, presaging his later generous use of palette knife.  His mantra to his students was, “See color.”  When they failed to see color, he demonstrated on their work and sent them home with finished but unsigned Molarskys.  He painted swiftly, with total assurance in the effect he wished to capture, sometimes appearing as a conductor leading an orchestra.  Since he was ambidextrous, he sometimes painted with a brush in each hand.  He was short in stature, which in now way diminished his confidence.  Although Abe continued to do pastels from time to time, he worked mostly in oil on gunny sack burlap rather than fine canvas, sizing it himself, retaining the rough texture he preferred.  He experimented with a succession of styles, each however essentially his own bran of Post Impressionism.  Some of his works have a flavor of scenes from grand operas or ballets and may have been evoked by childhood memories of Russian landscapes.  During this period he sketched out of doors in Provincetown, Gloucester and in the then bosky neighborhood of Nutley, in northern New Jersey, working up the sketches in his studio during the winters.  In 1917 we settled in Nutley, where he had his studio and painted until his death in 1955.  Until the forties, he was represented in all major American shows in The National Academy, Pennsylvania Academy, Corcoran Biannual, Pittsburgh International, the Watercolor Show, always by invitation and often with prominent hangings.  By the mid-1940s he was beginning to get rejections, in favor of modern nonrepresentational work and eventually ceased to submit to shows but continued to paint, sell work and teach.  From early in his career, he was represented by the Milch Galleries in New York.  None of his work is to be found in major collections, in part because he failed to take opportunities to promote himself as a painter.  He ignore an invitation to join the prestigious Salmagundi Club, and when The Corcoran expressed an interest in acquiring a painting in a Biannual show and asked the price, he replied, “The price is in the catalog.”  He felt justified when he sold the painting to another buyer for the catalog price.  This attitude left him admired by painters but not in phase with juries awarding prizes.  There is no basis for comparison between the work of the Brothers Molarsky.  Portraits and still lifes by Maurice are elegant, beautifully drafted and in strict academic tradition.  Abram’s landscapes, in their several modes, are the expression of a vigorous, singular artist, painting for the most part in no defined school or style.  Each is distinctive in his own manner.  Although the portraits and still lifes by his brother are elegant and better known, Abram’s work probably commands more critical respect for its originality and adventurous subjects.  A number of his paintings from all periods are in the possession of his granddaughter, Mona Molarsky, of New York City.  Others belong to his grandson, Michael Molarsky, of Kennebunk, Maine.”

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Annual, 1903-26
Library of Congress, 1943
Corcoran Gallery biennials, 1914-35 (5 times)
Other Corcoran Gallery exhibitions, 1939, 1941, 1945
Carnegie Institute
Art Institute of Chicago
Newark Art Club, annually, 1938 (prize)
Milch Gallery, New York (solo)
Newark Art Club, (solo)
Doll & Richards Gallery, Boston, 1913 (solo)
Contemporary Art Club, 1936 (prize)
The National Academy of Design
Pittsburgh International
The Watercolor Show
Montclair Museum of Art, New Jersey
Newark Museum, New Jersey

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts with William Merritt Chase and Thomas Anschutz and Cecilia Beaux

Art Alliance of Philadelphia

Court House, Newark, New Jersey
Public School, Newark, New Jersey

Dunbier (ed.), The Artists Bluebook: 34,000 North American Artists to March 2005
Falk, Who Was Who in American Art 1564-1975
Falk, Biennial Exhibition Record of the Corcoran Gallery of Art
Falk, The Annual Exhibition Record of the Art Institute of Chicago
Falk, Annual Exhibition Record, 1901-1950, National Academy of Design
Falk, Annual Exhibition Record, 1914-68 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Falk, Annual Exhibition Record, 1876-1913 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Optiz (ed.), Mantle Fielding’s Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors & Engravers
Schwarz-Philadelphia, American Paintings
Mallett, Index of Artists International Biographical
Molarsky, “Biography for Abraham Molarsky,” December 2003