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Rites of Spring-Olympic Offerings (Recto)

Thomas B. Cole, MD, MPH
JAMA. 2013;309(11):1080. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.176761.
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Rites of Spring-Olympic Offerings (Recto) (cover), by the American artist Marguerite Thompson Zorach (1887-1968), follows the Fauve style that was both praised and condemned when it was introduced by Henri Matisse, André Derain, and Maurice de Vlaminck at a Paris exhibition in 1905. In this painting, processions of pilgrims wind their way up a mountain bearing offerings of fruit. The pilgrims are outlined in blue and colored with pink on blue, which gives their bodies a dull luster. In the first decade of the 20th century, paintings with flattened figures and odd color choices were praised for their originality but also criticized for disregarding many of the achievements in modeling, tonality, and perspective that generations of painters had labored to refine. In the judgment of the avant-garde, traditional techniques had produced realistic pictures but were inhibiting viewers from looking at art in new ways. The traditional and modern camps could not agree to disagree, so each held its own exhibitions and appealed to its own audiences. The tension between traditional and modern art permeated French culture, including schools of art instruction such as La Pallette, which accepted Marguerite Thompson as a new student shortly after she arrived in Paris in 1908. The most prominent instructors at La Palette were Jacques-Emile Blanche, a traditionalist with modern leanings, and John Duncan Fergusson, who was a colorist in the mold of Matisse, Derain, and Vlaminck. The style of Rites of Spring-Olympic Offerings suggests that Marguerite Thompson was influenced more by Fergusson than by Blanche, but the painting does have some traditional elements, such as a mythological setting, a sense of depth, and some evidence of shading in the figures.

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Marguerite Thompson Zorach (1887-1968), Rites of Spring-Olympic Offerings (Recto), 1909, American. Oil on canvas. 74.9 × 62.4 cm. Courtesy of the Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin (http://www.blantonmuseum.org/). Michener Acquisitions Fund, 1985, 1985.74a. Photo credit: Rick Hall.

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