Rolph Scarlett (1889-1984) American, Canadian
Birthplace/Origin: Canada / New York
Rolph Scarlett (1889-1984) was a multi-talented New York artist, born in Canada, who primarily worked in the domains of painting and jewelry design. Scarlett is known for geometric abstraction and later in the 1950’s he would move on to Abstract Expressionism. He painted in a non-objective style, his painting reflecting the geometric shapes of his sculpted jewelry. His grandmother taught him painting as a youth and encouraged him to continue his studies at the Art Students League in New York. As a teenager, he took a job working for his uncle’s jewelry business where he learned the basics of gem setting. Trips to New York in his late teens and early twenties exposed the artist to abstract artists such as Wassily Kandinsky. After moving to New York, Scarlett took a trip to Europe in 1923 where he met painter Paul Klee who deepened Scarlett’s love for and understanding of the modern and abstract. From this point, the influence of both Klee and Kandinsky in Scarlett’s work became readily apparent.
In 1928, Scarlett took a job working as the set designer for the Pasadena Playhouse and spent the next eight years in California. In 1936, Scarlett returned to New York. Shortly thereafter, his art caught the eye of curator Hilla Rebay, hired by the Guggenheims to assemble their art collection. At the time, Rebay was also serving as the director of the Museum of Non-Objective Art, a perfect venue in which Scarlett’s paintings could be displayed. Their meeting led to a lifelong partnership between the two which allowed Scarlett and his paintings to gain a wider audience. So taken was Rebay with Scarlett’s artistic angle and style that she convinced the Guggenheims to purchase many of Rolph Scarlett’s paintings, displaying them alongside paintings by Kandinsky. She also made him chief lecturer at her museum, a position he held until the mid 1940s.
After Rebay’s departure from the Guggenheim Museum, Scarlett found himself without his most ardent supporter and subsequently moved to Woodstock, New York in the 1960s. He began to focus more on jewelry design and craft as he entered his old age. He passed away in 1984.