“Still Life with Mandolin” clearly shows Brodhead’s vibrant style and signature bright color palette.

“Still Life with Mandolin” clearly shows Brodhead’s vibrant style and signature bright color palette.

by Sally Cohen

With a career spanning more than eight decades, Philadelphia abstract painter Quita Brodhead, who lived to be 101 (1901-2002), was known for her vibrant style and signature bright color palette. Woodmere Art Museum’s new exhibition, “Quita Brodhead: Bold Strokes,” showcases the evolution of the artist’s oeuvre from early figurative work into bold, gestural abstraction.

An accompanying show, “Women and Biography,” shares the personal and public expression of intimate relationships between female artists and their families, partners, children and peers. Both exhibitions are on view Feb. 8 – June 1 (open house, Monday, Feb. 17, 1-4 p.m., Woodmere Art Museum, 9201 Germantown Ave.).

As a sign of Brodhead’s far-reaching influence, this year’s PHS Philadelphia Flower Show (March 1–9, Pennsylvania Convention Center) has selected Woodmere as one of its 18 national museum partners; with this year’s “ARTiculture!” theme in mind, Flower Show landscapers will create a display inspired by the Museum’s Brodhead collection.

This unprecedented collaboration of Flower Show designers and the nation’s great art museums will turn the Convention Center into a 10-acre living canvas of exquisite landscapes, gardens and floral arrangements. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit theflowershow.com.

The career of Quita Brodhead (nee Marie W Berl) stretched the entire length of the 20th century. Born in 1901 to well-to-do parents who encouraged her interests, Brodhead’s financial independence allowed her to pursue a career in a field open to relatively few women at the time. As an adult, she took the name Quita from a childhood nickname, Mariequita or “Little Marie.”

Upon entering the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1919, Brodhead pursued her studies with the well-known artist Arthur B. Carles. Brodhead absorbed Carles’ ideas about “creating form with color” (as Carles scholar Barbara Wolanin puts it), and his teachings and body of work had a lifelong impact on her work. He introduced her to modern artists like Picasso, Cezanne and Modigliani who were on display at the nearby Barnes Collection in Merion.

Matisse, who visited Philadelphia in 1933 at Carles’ and Dr. Barnes’ invitation, also had a major influence on her work. By the early 1950s, Brodhead’s work, still alive with color, had grown more abstract and, in the words of a critic, “induces physical sensations as though vision were a tactile sense, as though her play in color were to stroke the observer.” Art historian and critic Bill Scott wrote, “Quita’s painting is a continual act of balance and proportions in which she always leaves room for air.”

In 1934, she had her first solo exhibition at the Bryn Mawr Art Center (now the Main Line Art Center) in Haverford; by the 1940s and ’50s, Brodhead had developed abstract, large-scale paintings that put her at the cutting-edge of artistic expression in the U.S. and Europe. Among her major influences were Joan Miró, Wassily Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse.

Despite her success abroad and her innovative style of abstraction, Brodhead’s career gained significant momentum in the U.S. only when she was in her 90s. “Bold Strokes,” composed of 56 paintings from every decade of the artist’s 80-year career, begins with “Red-Haired Lady” (c. 1922–25), a painting Brodhead completed while she was as a student at PAFA, and concludes with “Whence and Where To” (2000), a peaceful and delicately-hued abstract composition that suggests a peaceful contemplation of the artist’s past and future.

“Woodmere is incredibly thrilled to present the work of Quita Brodhead,” said William R. Valerio, the Patricia Van Burgh Allison Director and CEO of Woodmere. “Brodhead exhibited in Europe and New York with artists such as Hans Arp and Kandinsky, but she is not well-known in Philadelphia. At the center of the exhibition are her large, colorful abstract paintings. Situating her work within the development of abstraction that occurred in Philadelphia and internationally in the 1940s and ’50s, it becomes clear that Brodhead was at the center of major artistic trends of the mid-20th century.”

In Woodmere’s adjacent galleries, the exhibition “Women and Biography” showcases the strength of the museum’s collection of work by female Philadelphia artists, including Mary Cassatt, Helen Corson, Edith Emerson, Martha Erlebacher, Elizabeth Shippen Green, Betty Hubbard, Aubrey Levinthal, Mitzi Melnicoff, Catherine Mulligan, Edith Neff, Violet Oakley, Alice Kent Stoddard and more.

Woodmere offers free admission on Sundays, including all special exhibitions. Museum hours are: Tuesday through Thursday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m.–8:45 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.–6 p.m.; and Sunday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.

For more information, visit woodmereartmuseum.org or call 215-247-0476.