Nurturing Baltimore's cultural garden For more than 40 years, Randy and Amalie Rothschild have been outstanding patrons of the arts

Art: Maryland Art Place has opened a retrospective of Amalie's work.

November 23, 1997|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

Balance is the essence of artist Amalie Rothschild.

Balance between intellectual rigor and emotional response informs her art. And balance among roles as artist, wife and mother, teacher and volunteer characterizes her busy life.

Her work has appeared in dozens of solo and group shows from Baltimore to Washington, New York, Tel Aviv and Caracas, and is in the collections of the Baltimore Museum of Art and Washington's Corcoran Gallery and Phillips Collection. Maryland Art Place has just opened a Rothschild retrospective.

She has been married to Baltimore lawyer and music aficionado Randolph Rothschild for 61 years and is the mother of two. She has served on numerous boards and committees, been an art teacher for more than 20 years, and privately helped out many artists.

So busy a life requires rigorous discipline, and Rothschild has it in abundance. She once taught herself trigonometry so she could calculate the angles in her sculpture. She taught herself the rudiments of how to play the violin, so she could better appreciate the music that is her husband's passion. And at age 81 she still goes to the gym twice a week.

But the discipline is balanced with compassion. Once, years ago, an alcoholic artist turned up at the Rothschilds' house one summer day and asked for help. She took him in temporarily, helped him get into a drying-out program, and lent him money.

Another time, she read in the paper about a boy in legal trouble who told the judge his problems stemmed from the fact that he couldn't afford to go to art school. Rothschild got in touch with the judge and paid for the boy to go to art school.

"She is the staunchest friend," says fellow artist Frieda Sohn, who has known Rothschild for more than 40 years. "There isn't a day she doesn't call me. We exchange books all the time, and if I'm sick she brings me things."

Because Rothschild comes across as a no-nonsense person concentrated on her art, Sohn thinks, many people don't see that generous human side.

Emotional responses

And because of the rigorous geometric qualities of her paintings and sculpture, many people may miss the art's more human side. But the artist's deep response to the natural world is there in her reduced but recognizable forms, sensitive use of color and occasional touch of humor.

One of her most cherished pictures in the current show is "Ripening of the Oranges in Sicily." In form, it's a geometry of blue and black squares and triangles dotted with orange discs. As always, it was carefully worked out.

"It's done on a grid of squares," Rothschild says, "and in order to get the oranges so they didn't line up horizontally or vertically, each one is in a different position within the squares."

But it's not about grids. It's about her trip to Sicily, seeing the deep blue sky, the oranges on the trees, the black costumes of the people and the fallen columns of Greek temples.

"It's an intellectualizing of the emotional reaction to Sicily," she says, "the contrast of the beauty of the place and the kind of depressing atmosphere of the people."

"Sicily" is one of more than two dozen paintings and five sculptures in the newly opened MAP show, scheduled to travel to Latin America after its run at MAP ends in January. The balance between intellectual rigor and emotional response in these works finds a parallel in the balance of interests she received from her parents.

"My father was a very organized person who dealt with mechanical things and electrical things. My mother was quite the opposite. She was a very gifted amateur classical pianist with perfect pitch. So there was a combination of the tooling and the mechanics and stuff from my father and artistic sensibility from hTC my mother."

The early days

Rothschild was born Amalie Rosenfeld in Baltimore on Jan. 1, 1916. She excelled in geometry and mathematics in school. But as early as age 7 she showed an interest in drawing, and it was encouraged with art classes. Graduating from Western High School at 16, she enrolled at the Maryland Institute, College of Art, where she studied to become a fashion illustrator, graduating in two years.

By the mid-1930s she had met fellow Baltimorean Randolph Rothschild, a lawyer who worked in his family's firm, the Sun Life Insurance Co., and a music devotee who became the guiding light of the Chamber Music Society of Baltimore. The two were married in 1936, and for a time Amalie Rothschild played the young housewife.

"I was having luncheon dates with my girlfriends and even trying to play bridge, which I wasn't very good at," she says. "And it was unsatisfying for me, because I knew from the time I was a kid that I wanted to be an artist. Or was an artist, I guess."

So she began studying with private teachers and submitted her work to well-known painter Herman Maril for critiques. During the 1940s she struggled to understand cubism, began to develop a personal style and submitted artwork to regional exhibits in Baltimore and elsewhere.

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