Rolph Scarlett (1889-1984): A Canadian-American Abstractionist

Rolph Scarlett - Composition with Blue Circle

Rolph Scarlett (1889-1984), "Composition with Blue Circle," ca. 1940s, gouache and ink on paper, 23 1/2 x 18 inches

Carol Lowrey

I first became acquainted with the paintings of Rolph Scarlett early in my career when employed at the University of Guelph Art Gallery (known today as the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre) in my home province of Ontario.  I was doing research in preparation for a collection catalogue and––amidst the landscapes by the Group of Seven and the portraits and academic figure pieces that graced the collection–– his non-objective work truly stood out.  Born in Guelph––about an hour’s drive southwest of Toronto––Scarlett studied art during his school days, but after completing his education he became an apprentice in his family’s jewelry firm.  He went to New York in 1909, attending classes at the Art Students League of New York while continuing his activity in the jewelry field until returning to his hometown in 1912.  In 1919, he trekked south of the border again, working as a jeweler, designer and painter in New York, Toledo and Southern California.  A trip to Europe in 1923 brought him into contact with the abstract styles of Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee, to which he was instantly drawn.  Read the rest of this post on the Spanierman Modern blog.

8 Responses to “Rolph Scarlett (1889-1984): A Canadian-American Abstractionist”

  1. bob pyle Says:

    Good article! I have done a documentary on Rolph Scarlett. He was a fantastic artist and is starting to be recognized as one of America’s premier abstractionists. His historical link to The Guggenheim is interesting too! While he was employed uostairs at the old Guggenheim , Jackson Pollack was working downstairs as the Guggenheim janitor! True story!

  2. bob pyle Says:

    Hi Carol. Also, Rolph Scarlett was recently displayed in the Middle East at a show for the upcoming Guggenheim Museum in Dubai. I will gladly send you a free copy of the Rolph Scarlett documentary. Should I mail it to you at Spanierman Gallery ?
    Thanks, Bob

  3. CHIRAG NAIK Says:

    Hi! Carol,

    I found this site while surfing the net for Rolph Scarlett’s works. I saw his art for the first time at the Abu Dhabi exhibition (The Guggenheim: The Making of a Museum ). I was completely mesmerised by – The symphony in four movements – his work exhibited and since then have been trying to find all his work on the net.

    I had infact asked guggenheim if they had any images for the symphony series but haven’t heard from them. Would you by any chance seen these anywhere?

    I think your blog is great and i have added it to my fav.

    Dear Bob,

    Is it possible for you to send me the documentry you made on Rolph Scarlett. Would really appreciate it.

    Thanks, CHIRAG

    • Spanierman Gallery, LLC Says:

      No, I haven’t seen any images for the Symphony Series, but I will keep an eye out for them and let you know when I do.
      Thanks for your comment on the blog!


    • bob pyle Says:

      Hello CHIRAG,
      Yes, The Symphony in Four Movements was inspired by Scarlett’s mentor, Rudolf Bauer, who was inspired in turn by Wassily Kandinsky, who used classical music as his inpiration. Rolph Scarlett was so highly thought of that he was the ONLY American artist to be shown at the original Guggenheim Museum for many years. Hilla Rebay, the original curator of the Guggenheim Museum considered him to be the American Kandinsky!
      I’ll be glad to send you the Rolph Scarlett DVD ! It has live interviews with Rolph Scarlett ! What is your address?
      Bob Pyle
      Ellicott City, Maryland

  4. Loraine Saucedo Says:’s done it once more! Amazing article.

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