Exhibit: “a bit more modern”

All works in this exhibit were the gift of Miriam Mulford Hunt Thrall.

Compote of Fruit, 1942
Oil on canvas, HC09-4728

This still life of fruit hung in the dining room of Gest’s home, Handsworth, on City Line Avenue. Of a similar modernist piece shown by Gest at the Friends Central School’s 14th Annual Exhibition of contemporary art, a critic remarked “there is an outstanding quality” to the study, with its “rich impasto, the colors dark reds and greens, with bright yellow for sharp contrast.”

Madaket Harbor, undated
Watercolor on wove paper, HC2017-0545

Margaret Gest graduated from the Pennsylvania Museum & School of Industrial Art in 1924 before becoming a Fellow at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts. During this period of formal education, she studied under Hugh Breckenridge at the art colonies in Gloucester, Massachusetts – where she would work most summers of her adult life.

Grecian Figures in a Boat, undated
Oil on gesso, HC08-0307

“The Ten” was a well-known collective of female artists who attended art school in Philadelphia. Gest showed with them, by invitation, at a 1935 Art Club exhibit. The critic reviewing the show remarked that Gest was “rather more contemporary, or modern, than the rest,” noting, in particular, her work being “unusual for the scratched outlines of the figures.” This technique, the outlining of objects by the incision of paint, created a look distinctive to Gest.

Sorrente, undated
Pastel on paper, HC2017-0601

Rock Leading to the Sea, undated
Oil on canvas, HC09-4744

Rocks, undated
Oil on canvas, HC09-4982

Throughout the 1930s and 40s, Gest showed at the annual exhibitions of the Fellowship at PAFA, the Friends Central School annual exhibition of contemporary art, and the Plastic Club, a female artists’ collective. Critics regularly called out Gest as more contemporary or modern than her cohort. These “touches of Cubism” in Gest’s work often appear as triptychs, in which a distant swath of sky divided two imposing cliffs or buildings in the foreground.

Untitled (Portrait of Reader), undated
Watercolor on board, HC2017-0512

In addition to being an artist, Gest was a prolific reader and scholar. She authored a book on English mystic Jeremy Taylor, published in 1954, and completed a translation of Horace’s Odes published posthumously in 1976. Gest’s love of books began early, with ventures into her parents’ library, and continued throughout her life. In the early 1940s, Gest began to actively collect rare books, including the 1493 illuminated manuscript, Nuremberg Chronicle. Upon her death, she left the 3,000 volume library to Miriam Thrall who donated it intact to Beaver College (now Arcadia University). The College auctioned the collection at Sotheby’s in 1977, following Thrall’s death.

Untitled (Portrait of a Man), undated
Oil on canvas, HC15-5011

Gest seldom did portraiture; even more rare are her depictions of men. This is one of only three images of men in the 300-piece collection here at Haverford College. While the subject is unusual for Gest, the work is still immediately attributable to her for its bold strokes and sensitivity to the humanity of her sitter.

Untitled (Nude), undated
Crayon on paper, HC2017-0431

Gest strayed from her usual exhibition genres and media when she drew nudes. Never publicly displayed, and primarily rendered in crayon or pastel on sketch paper, these intimate glimpses of women contrast sharply with her often dark, thickly painted landscapes and still lives, revealing sensitivity, compassion, and softness in Gest’s work. The image on the right is on the verso of this piece.

Untitled (Tents on the Shore), undated
Oil on canvas, HC2017-0505 & HC2017-0506

When painting shore scenes, Gest gravitated toward depicting solitary, transitional spaces between land and open water. However, these somber works belie Gest’s love of practical jokes. Miriam Thrall recounted a luncheon she and Gest held at their home. Taking a phone call early in the meal, Gest told her friends to continue without her. As the group finished their meal, Gest “threw off her maid’s cap and apron … thoroughly satisfied by the pleasant hour of enjoying her friends and being able to concentrate on their cleverness” without their knowledge. These rare works, depicting beachgoers at leisure, hints at Gest’s playful personality.

Rock on the Moors, undated
Watercolor on paper, HC2017-0676

Rocks by the Sea – Rafe’s Chasm, undated
Watercolor on paper, HC2017-0677

Blighty Rocks, 1933
Charcoal & pastel on paper, HC12-5099

An art critic’s review of similar papers (lower right, as displayed in the Philadelphia Inquirer) noted Gest’s “rich textures drive home a strong impression with a minimum of fuss. The black, dark green and brown long have been pillars of her palette, but recent pictures disclose she has textured these in a way that considerably augments their richness.” 

Red Flowers, undated
Oil on canvas. HC15-5013

“It is pleasant to record the presence of so many pieces of excellent flower painting,” wrote a critic attending the annual exhibition of the Fellowship at PAFA in 1941, particularly the primitivism of Gest’s flowers with their “distinctive pattern.”

The Gest Landscape
~ characterized by looped trees and rolling hills ~

Fields in the Heartland, undated
Watercolor on paper, HC2017-0578

At a 1939 show of “modern women painters” at the Carlen Galleries, a critic found Gest’s landscapes to be “noteworthy” among the “large and lively showing.” Her landscapes are recognizable by her distinctive trees and shrubs: multi-looped oval canopies, with or without a trunk. It was for watercolor landscapes that the Fellowship of the Academy awarded her the Gold Medal in 1936 and 1947.

Connecticut Landscape, undated
Watercolor on board, HC2017-0538

Gest spent summers painting in Massachusetts. At the 1938 Gloucester Society of Artists exhibition, a critic remarked Gest’s work “shows spirit and style in two small watercolor seascapes.”

Nocturne – Red Willow, undated
Watercolor on paper, HC2017-0681

Trees Against Distant Wine Hills, undated
Watercolor on wove paper, HC2017-0573

At the 5th Annual Exhibition of the Friends Central School, similar landscapes made the critic remark that her work “reveal(s) the attainments of the city’s women painters.”

Green Landscape, undated
Watercolor on paper, HC2017-0588

Greek Islands, undated
Oil on canvas, HC08-0296

Of a similar landscape, the critic of the 2nd Annual Water Color Show at the Art Alliance in 1938 noted Gest created remarkably “effective vistas of land or water.”

Pasturelands, 1938
Watercolor on paper, HC08-0301

Road to the Sea, 1933
Pastel on paper, HC2017-0607

A review of the 128th Annual Exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, of which Gest was a Fellow, noted her landscapes “provide performances out of the ordinary.”