art for everyone. every monday morning.

William Zorach • american (1887-1966)

Stonington Harbor, Maine C: 1920 • Watercolor on Paper 15-3/8” x 12-1/4”

Our story began on Christmas Eve: William Zorach had many names, but until he met Marguerite Thompson, he didn’t know who he was. Born Zorach Samovich in Lithuania, his family emigrated to Cleveland in 1891 taking the name Finkelstein. Zorach was later renamed William. As William Finkelstein he worked for a commercial lithographer and studied art in New York. He traveled to Paris, enrolling in La Palette, an English-speaking art school. There he met Marguerite Thompson, a bohemian young woman from a prominent California family. She convinced him to “be just as artistic as you have it in you to be” and embrace modernism. Two years later, Marguerite Thompson married William Finkelstein and, in true bohemian fashion, they decided to take his original first name as their new family name.  

Zorach Samovich, the immigrant, became Zorach Finkelstein, then William Finkelstein, the art student, and finally William Zorach, the modern artist. Only in America. 

The Zorach’s lived a life dedicated to Modern Art. While not wildly successful artists, they were able to live in Greenwich Village and summer in dilapidated homes provided by friends in various New England country towns. The summer of 1919 was spent at Stonington Harbor, Maine. When William painted this watercolor he was just a few years into his exploration of modern art reflected in the flattened geometric shapes and colorful palette.

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By 1922 William abandoned oil painting in favor of sculpture, pioneering direct carving techniques in wood and stone. However, he never abandoned watercolors or Modern Art. He opened a 1931 speech to New York’s Art Students League by saying: “Modern Art to my generation was a spiritual awakening, a freeing of Art from the idea of copying Nature.” 

For 30 years of his life, William Zorach taught at that same Art Students League and became so beloved that the students staged a retrospective of his work in 1950. Today, long after his death, his works can be found in world famous museums, including the Smithsonian, Whitney, Brooklyn Art Museum, Metropolitan Art Museum, and the Canton Museum of Art.

Perhaps his longest-lasting work of art was his 54 year long marriage to fellow artist, Marguerite. It all started on Christmas Eve. Merry Christmas from ARTe … and to all a good night.

Canton Museum of Art Permanent Collection • Margretta Bockius Wilson Fund, 2010.20


4 Ways to Sound Smart When Viewing at The Canton Museum of Art

“Zorach was, at various times in his life, known as Zorach Samovich, Zorach Finkelstein, William Finkelstein and, finally, William Zorach.”

“His wife Marguerite had a profound effect on his artistic style, pushing him into embracing Modern Art, including Post-Impressionism, Cubism, Fauvism and Expressionism.”

“Both Zorach and his wife has their work shown in the famous Armory Show, a seminal event in the history of Modern Art.”

“His oil painting masterpiece, ‘Yosemite Falls’ was painted during a family vacation to California to visit his wife’s family.”


Zorach Timeline. Scroll over images to see timeline.