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Amalie Rothschild

Artist
1916 – 2001
by Amalie R. Rothschild

Amalie Rothschild was a painter, sculptor, and printmaker who lived and worked her entire life in Baltimore, Maryland and made enormous contributions to the cultural and artistic environment of the city and local area.

Born Amalie Getta Rosenfeld on January 1, 1916, she was an artist all her life, starting to draw and study from the age of six. Even after her marriage at age 20 and the birth of two daughters, she had the drive and discipline to spend at least six hours a day in her studio, five to six days a week, until the day she went into the hospital for cancer surgery in August 2000. She died the next year, on November 4, 2001.

Young Amalie Rothschild Painting in her Studio
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Amalie Rothschild in her studio in 1948 working on a portrait of her husband, a work now lost.

Rothschild worked in many media, was immensely curious, and experimented with many forms and materials. Local recognition began with her first solo exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art in 1942 and continued until the end of her life.

She showed her work in New York from time to time, most notably during the 1960s but, for many reasons, including her commitment to her husband and family, she chose not to promote her career beyond the Baltimore–Washington, D.C. mid-Atlantic region. When she died she left a vast oeuvre comprising approximately 1400 fully realized works in all media, some 300 of which are in private collections and museums.

She studied commercial art and fashion illustration at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore and after graduating with honors in 1934 had a six-month scholarship at Parson’s in New York City.

Her recently widowed mother did not allow her to continue her studies in Paris, where she had been offered a fellowship, so she returned to Baltimore in 1935. There she began her career as a painter of regional genre scenes and later progressed to a more complex and sophisticated examination of form. Her work, despite its abstract geometric appearance, was frequently self-referential and often dealt with the issues of balancing the duties of wife and mother with the strivings of the artist, while at the same time paying homage to historical themes.

Amalie Rothschild with one of her paintings
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Amalie Rothschild in front of two panels of her four panel work "Cyclops" in 1973.

Beginning in the feminist 1970s, Amalie Rothschild created her most innovative work, a series she referred to as Vestments. Although the title suggests ecclesiastical attire, the works are also imbued with armorial imagery. Constructed of sculptural materials, including aluminum and translucent Plexiglas which simulate colorful evocations of stained glass, as well as cord and handmade chain links, the non-wearable forms are designed to hang and be seen from front and back, more in the manner of textiles than sculptures. In them she introduced new ways to think about the possibilities of artistic production and sculptural ideas. The Vestments emphasize shape and form rather than mass and address issues of both identity and form. They even seem to be emblems of protective clothing for women warriors in the battle to create a new art.

Rothschild's fascination with technique led her to acquire the many necessary skills to fabricate all her work herself in her studio-machine shop, and she became a superb craftsperson, calling on experts to help her learn new techniques.

Throughout her life she drew almost every day, creating thousands of works on paper. But she returned often to painting and was a major force in the Maryland art world. She gave generously of her time to the community while never losing sight of commitment to her own development and dedication as a full-time artist. In December 2000 the State of Maryland made her the second recipient of The Maryland Arts Lifetime Achievement Award.

A 512-page book, Amalie Rothschild, edited by her daughter and published in April 2012, chronicles the artist's life and career in a practical "portable museum" of her most significant creations, making her varied artistic output available to a wider public.

Amalie R. Rothschild, a photographer and filmmaker, is the daughter of Amalie Rothschild.

Quotes

"I learned a lot about self-expressiveness during twelve
years of volunteer work in art therapy at Springfield State
Hospital. I had also read
a book about Matisse, who started every day in his studio by drawing without a
plan. So I started the day by just drawing—'automatic drawing.' And
that, plus the experience at Springfield,
brought what was inside of me out to the fore. My whole method of being an
artist changed as a result of those two experiences."

- Amalie Rothschild, oral history, 1999

“Amalie Rosenfeld Rothschild appeared on the American art scene at a challenging time. She was a woman, when artists were supposed to be male; she was American, at a time when important art was still expected to come from Europe; and she lived in Baltimore—which, while hardly a cultural backwater, was not New York City, then regarded as the center of art in the U.S…Over the course of six and a half decades she managed to surmount traditional prejudices—about the abilities, rights, and obligations of American women; about commercial vs. fine art; about artists who constantly explore new ways to express themselves; about people who live outside New York City; and about the validity of supposedly-serious art that also dares to be funny.”

- Nancy G. Heller

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Amalie Rothschild
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Amalie Rothschild in her studio in 1988.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Amalie Rothschild, 1916 - 2001." (Viewed on September 2, 2014) <http://jwa.org/weremember/rothschild-amalie>.

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