Masters Preview | Rolph Scarlett

The Masters Exhibit is an annual, one-month departure from Sager Braudis Gallery’s usual schedule of contemporary art exhibits, to bring to Missouri masterworks by historically influential mid-century artists. Because some background understanding can aid in the appreciation of these significant works, we’ll feature a blog post on each artist whose work will be on display at the 2016 Masters Exhibit, to share with you the stories of our featured masters. The Masters Exhibit will open to the public with a First Friday reception at 6 PM on December 2nd, and will run through December 31st. All works on display will be available for purchase, and we encourage both budding and established collectors to inquire about private, guided tours, which include details, valuation, and histories of works of interest.

Rolph Scarlett, a Canadian-born painter and designer, was a contemporary of Rudolf Bauer, Vassily Kandinsky, and Hilla Rebay, and contributed to the rise of non-objective art in the U.S. both an extensive portfolio of vibrant abstract paintings, and a series of lectures and teachings at the Museum of Non-Objective Art, the precursor to the Guggenheim Foundation Museum.

After travelling to New York as a young man in 1908 and meeting Paul Klee, Scarlett embraced abstraction and was among the first of his peers to move to full non-objectivity, making paintings that did not refer to any recognizable subject matter, but relied on emotionally charged arrangement of pure color, shape, and line. This appealed immensely to Hilla Rebay, the abstract painter and curator of Solomon Guggenheim’s non-objective collection, when she met Scarlett in 1933, and she is said to have referred to him as “Rolph Scarlett, my great find.” When Rudolf Bauer immigrated to the U.S. in 1939, Scarlett was teaching and lecturing at the Museum of Non-Objective Art under Rebay’s direction, and Bauer became a friend and mentor.

Rolph Scarlett
Untitled (five black dots)
Oil on panel

Scarlett’s work ranges from balanced, static, outlined abstract forms early on, to fully Abstract Expressionist dripping and pouring of paint in gestural, thick lines from around the 1950s. The constants throughout his creative career are rich, vibrant hues and a reliance on composition rather than recognizable subject matter to convey feeling and energy.

Though the Guggenheim collection changed shape after the death of Solomon Guggenheim in 1949 and the forced resignation of Hilla Rebay in 1952, the Museum still retains a large collection of Scarlett’s abstracts. His long career yielded exemplary works in early abstraction, Non-Objectivity, and Abstract Expressionism.


“Rolph Scarlett,” Weinstein Gallery. Accessed November 29, 2016.

“Rolph Scarlett,” FL Fine Art. Accessed November 29, 2016.

Vivian Barnett, Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker, Robert Rosenblum, Brigitte Salmon, Karole Vail, and Roland von Rebay, Art of Tomorrow. (New York: Guggenheim Museum, 2005).