Brodhead was born in 1901 in Wilmington, Delaware, the youngest of seven children of a successful industrialist and importer. Her given name was Marie Waggaman Berl, but her father liked to call her Mariequita (“little Marie” in Spanish), which she later shortened to Quita. She first learned to sketch at a convent boarding school in Suffern, New York. She convinced her family to let her enroll at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1919, where she studied for five years.
Her teachers at the Academy included Henry McCarter, who taught illustration and Hugh Breckenridge, who taught academic portrait techniques. By far her greatest influence was Arthur B. Carles, who taught a popular Saturday morning sketch class. It was through Carles that Brodhead and her peers were introduced to Picasso, Cezanne, and Modigliani - all of whom exhibited at the nearby Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. In addition to introducing her to modernism, Carles taught her to understand color as possessing dimension and volume. He believed that colors had a spiritual existence, and showed his students the ways in which they vibrated in relationship to one another. After Carles left the Academy in 1925, Brodhead and a small group of former Academy students began studying privately with him. They rented a studio on Chestnut Street, hired models, and arranged for Carles to visit on a regular basis to critique their work. Brodhead continued to work with him on and off until 1941, when he suffered a debilitating stroke and was no longer able to paint.
In addition to studying in Philadelphia, Brodhead traveled to Europe for three summers beginning in 1922 where she painted at the Académie Julian and La Grande Chaumiere in Paris. She also studied with Alexander Archipenko in Woodstock, New York during the summer of 1927. His influence led to the introduction of geometric forms in her work. Later that year she married Truxton Brodhead, a steel salesman, and moved to Wayne, Pennsylvania. She continued to paint, and soon received her first mural commission for St. John the Divine Episcopal Church in nearby Bala Cynwyd.
Throughout the 1930s she primarily produced figurative work, particularly portraits and nudes, as well as still lifes and landscapes. Her first solo exhibition was in 1938 at the Charles Morgan Gallery in New York. Several other solo exhibits followed, as well as
group shows at the Pennsylvania Academy where she won a Gold Medal in 1943. During the 1940s her work became increasingly abstract, though she still concentrated on figure painting, still lifes and landscapes. In 1949 she moved to France with her children to escape an unworkable marriage. For the next fifteen years she lived and worked in Paris, Rome, Greece and the Canary Islands. During this time she exhibited at the Salon d’Automne in Paris, Galerie Appunto in Rome, Galerie Internationale in New York City and the Society of Fine Arts in Santa Cruz, Canary Islands. In the 1950s, her work evolved towards pure abstraction as she focused on compositions of geometric color planes. By the early 1960s she was creating powerful expressionist works, while later in the decade she experimented with large, hard-edged geometric forms.
Her work in the latter half of the twentieth century evolved in several directions. Many of her paintings from the 1980s incorporate ideas that she developed a decade earlier, but the forms appear softer, more biomorphic and atmospheric. Inspired by recent discoveries in science and technology, her late work moved towards greater simplicity and purity, suggesting the essential forms of the cosmos. Despite these shifts, Brodhead remained true throughout her career to the modernist principles of her training: using color and form to express meaning, emotion and transcendent values.
During her long and productive career Quita Brodhead had nearly forty solo exhibitions and was included in dozens of group shows in New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Paris and Rome, among other locations. Her work is represented in numerous museums, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Delaware Art Museum, Munson-Williams Proctor Institute, New Jersey State Museum, Butler Art Institute and Museo de Bellas Artes in the Canary Islands.
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