Signed and dated (at lower left): M. Molarsky 1914 Maurice Molarsky was born in Kiev, Russia, but spent the majority of his life in Philadelphia. He first studied art at the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Arts (now The University of the Arts) in Philadelphia. He then enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, where he studied with Thomas Anshutz and William Merritt Chase. In 1904, Molarsky was one of the first to win a Cresson Traveling Scholarship from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, which he used to finance a trip to Paris to study art. When he returned to the United States, Molarsky brought with him a new style influenced by the great French modern painters, especially Manet and Degas. Molarsky launched himself into a full-time career as an artist. He exhibited often and widely, contributing works regularly to such venues as the Pennsylvania Academy, from 1904-50; the Art Institute of Chicago, from 1908-27; the National Academy of Design, New York, from 1914-40; and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., from 1908-39. Among his many honors, Molarsky was awarded the Henry Thouron Prize for Composition and Mural Decoration from the Pennsylvania Academy. He also won a silver medal for the present painting at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, in 1915; a gold medal from the Philadelphia Art Club in 1919; a silver medal at the Sesqui-Centennial Exposition, Philadelphia, in 1926; and a gold medal from the Philadelphia Sketch Club in 1932. Molarsky had his first one-man show in 1931 at the Newman Galleries in Philadelphia, an event which prompted one critic to praise Molarsky for “setting forth in striking arrangements the flamboyant beauty of women who glow like geraniums” (Edith Emerson, “Field Notes,” The American Magazine of Art, XXII [March 1931], p. 225). Molarsky was held in high regard in Philadelphia. Following his death in 1950, a memorial exhibition of his work was held at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He was remembered particularly as a fine portrait painter. One critic summarized his output in the genre: “[His] ability to catch both strength and subtlety developed early and remained with Molarsky to the end in portraits of men. It was when Molarsky turned his brush on women that he yielded to a flair for staging” (Dorothy Hammond, “Philadelphia News,” Art Digest, XXV [October 1, 1950], p. 4). Both of these remarks apply to Reflections, in which Molarsky has artfully posed the woman at her vanity so that her reflection in the mirror is also visible. The picture follows in the general style of Molarsky’s portraits of women, which usually feature elegantly dressed figures in clever and alluring poses, set within genteel interiors. The subject of the painting is almost certainly Molarsky’s wife, Tina, who often posed for him. Comparisons to a photograph of Mrs. Molarsky are convincing enough to make this attribution. There are some curious ambiguities surrounding Reflections. The last digit of the date inscribed on the picture is somewhat indistinct; under close examination, it reads as either “4” or “7”. Exhibition records confirm that the work was exhibited as early as 1914, so it therefore seems that the work was indeed painted in that year. Based on addresses given in exhibition records, Molarsky seems to have lived in New York from 1914–19; otherwise, he spent the rest of his life in Philadelphia. It is therefore likely that the present picture was painted in New York City. Also, Reflections was once known as “Girl in White,” the title under which it was exhibited at the National Academy of Design’s Winter Exhibition of 1916–17. A reproduction of the painting in the catalogue of the exhibition confirms the alternate title. Whether this was a deliberate act on the part of the artist or a mistake of the National Academy is not known, but labels from various other exhibitions on the back of the picture indicate that Reflections was ultimately the artist’s preferred title. Maurice Molarsky is sometimes confused with his older brother, Abraham (1883–1951), who lived in New Jersey, was also an artist, and also studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Even more curious, each artist painted and exhibited a work under the title Reflections. Reflections is one of Molarsky’s most famous paintings. It was exhibited widely at a number of major exhibition venues in America, and it was awarded a silver medal at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, in 1915. It is also one of the best works in Molarsky’s oeuvre. Molarsky’s work is held in various public collections, including both the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Woodmere Museum of Art in Philadelphia, and the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio.
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