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 United States 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. 

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.


(note: more works available)