The following Gloucester Daily Times article was written by staff writer Gail McCarthy, a long-time friend and supporter of Charles, and the arts on Cape Ann in general. This article is reproduced with permission, see the original version of the article on the Gloucester Times website, which also contains a gallery of select paintings from the show. All the paintings are available to view here on our website as well, in the "Paintings" section. The show opens this Saturday, March 5, we are very excited to share the work with the public!
The late Charles Movalli's works honored in exhibit at Cape Ann Museum
By Gail McCarthy Staff Writer Mar 2, 2017
The late Gloucester artist Charles Movalli led a kaleidoscopic life, with his ever-evolving artistic palette and his immersion into thousands of books of all subjects, from classical music to science and ancient history. But his most beloved subject of all was American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
The award-winning artist and dedicated man of letters died last year at the age of 70, sending a shockwave through the Cape Ann and Boston artistic communities. Movalli (1945-2016) had a 16-year battle with multiple myeloma, according to his family, though he remained his energetic self until the final weeks.
Family and friends estimate he must have painted at least 5,000 paintings in his career, which spans more than 40 years. One gallery sold more than 400 paintings of his over the course of a decade, said Dale Ratcliff Movalli, his wife. He was known for his landscape and marine paintings.
More than 45 of his works — with many from private collections — will be on view at a special exhibition “Cape Ann & Beyond” at Cape Ann Museum, opening Saturday, March 4.
“He was a colorful character — a one-of-a-kind Renaissance man — and it was a privilege to live with him and experience his ideas,” said Dale, who is also an artist. “In an interview, he once said he was the luckiest man to ever live, and I think I was the luckiest woman because he was pursuing something he loved, and not everybody gets to do that.”
Movalli’s enthusiasm for all fine arts was infectious, whether he was talking about a historic Cape Ann master painter or a composer or an inventor.
But his most beloved artist was Wright, the 20th-century architect and writer.
“Frank Lloyd Wright was the greatest influence in his life,” Dale said. “Charles loved the library, and at age 12, he went to the adult stacks at the Sawyer Free Library and found a Frank Lloyd Wright book. Wright steered him through his life’s works. He thought Wright was America’s greatest artist because he was a master of design and a planner. He applied Wright’s philosophy to his own life. He thought about design in everything he saw and did.”
Movalli’s reputation went beyond Cape Ann. His work was exhibited in galleries from Boston to Carmel, California, in addition to the historic Rockport Art Association and North Shore Arts Association in Gloucester.
He was a Signature Member of the Oil Painters of America. He received Life Achievement awards from the Oil Painters of America, Rockport Art Association and Hudson Valley Art Association. His memberships also included the New England Watercolor Society.
“Charlie was an important and influential figure in 20th-century art on Cape Ann, a real advocate for the arts, a gifted painter and writer, and a highly respected teacher,” said Cape Ann Museum curator Martha Oaks. “He was also a vital bridge between earlier artists of what we refer to as the Cape Ann School and the current art scene.”
Oaks noted how Movalli was strongly influenced by artist and teacher Emile Gruppé.
“In the earliest paintings in our exhibit you see Gruppé’s strong influence over the young artist,” she said. “Charlie was eager, however, to learn and experiment, and many of the later works in the exhibit reflect how his style grew and matured as he moved away from the traditional compositions and techniques preferred by Gruppé to experiment with more abstract styles and methods of painting.”
A peek into Movalli’s personal life
Movalli’s transformation into an artistic and intellectual fountainhead was foreshadowed since his infancy.
“There is a funny baby picture of him near his computer when he was about 3 months old and he is holding a newspaper as if he were reading it,” Dale said.
The infant bibliophile would manifest that love of letters into adulthood. He earned a doctorate in English at University of Connecticut.
The son of an artist, he was always exposed to the art world through his mother. When he had difficulty finding work in his field, he opened a gallery on the historic Rocky Neck Art Colony in Gloucester when he was in his 30s. He called the gallery “Seven/Eighths,” because in his viewpoint, no painting is ever done.
“The Rocky Neck painters used to come listen to him, and he enjoyed entertaining people and informing them of the things he had learned. He loved to educate,” Dale said.
In that spirit, he succeeded in combining his love of art and letters, becoming both a successful artist and writer. He contributed more than 80 articles to the American Artist magazine. He also edited nine art books.
His friends and colleagues knew him as a confirmed bachelor until his 40s, when through kismet, he and then-partner Dale married in 1991.
“He was an amazing person. He was genuinely interested in everyone and hearing their stories. He was so generous and he had so much energy. Every single day he accomplished many things,” said Dale. “He was very erudite. His interests had such a broad range. He was particularly interested in anybody who succeeded, whether a chemist or musician, and he liked adventure stories and tales of explorers.”
Movalli had a soft side, too.
When he and his wife found a month-old rabbit in their front yard, that was the start of a long-standing relationship.
“Her name was Betsy Bunny. Someone threw her away and we brought her into the house and she became the studio bunny. Charlie would bring her down at night to watch TV and have salad. She listened to Verdi and all the wonderful opera he used to have on,” Dale recalled. “We had an amazing life, and I have flashbacks of the museums we visited and the painting trips we took everywhere.”
Along the way, the couple collected all kinds of objects that brought them joy, including small bronze animals, steins, Asian ware and other items. They called their interior design “organized chaos.” He often shared with others a quote by British designer and artist William Morris: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-675-2706, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.