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Margaret (Margot) King Rocle (1893-1981)

margotrocle1Watkins Glen, New York March 6, 1893
d. Ramona, California November 9, 1981

While attending boarding school in Philadelphia, Margaret received her first instruction in art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Later in New York, while taking dancing lessons, she studied painting at night in the school of William Merritt Chase, and at the Art Students’ League under Robert Henri, Sloane Bredin, Howard Giles and Irving Wiles. Her career, however, started as a barefoot Greek dancer in the tradition of Isadora Duncan. She briefly played the vaudeville circuit where she was photographed by Arnold Genthe, Edward Steichen and other famous photographers of the day.

After she had been only five months on the vaudeville stage, World War I broke out. Margaret’s father, a physician, had died, so she and her mother enlisted as war nurses in France. She soon discovered that nursing did not suit her, and spent the remainder of her time doing canteen work. While quartered at a hotel in Paris, she met Marius Rocle who was living at the same hotel.

Marius was an American citizen, though born of French parents in Belgium in 1897. He spent much of his youth in Paris where his father was once editor of Figaro. Enlisting for service from New York in September of 1914, Marius spent two years in the infantry where he was awarded the Croix de Guerre. Later, he transferred to aviation and joined the Lafayette Flying Corps. He and Margaret were married on October 1, 1918, in Paris, and the armistice was signed the following month. It was probably shortly after their marriage that Margaret began to go by the name Margot.

Margot Rocle's portrait of Eileen Jackson After the war, the Rocles went to New York for a few months, but returned to France where Marius became the representative of a U.S. machinery firm. Unfortunately, they discovered that things had changed considerably after the war, and necessities were scarce and expensive. Returning to New York, the couple later moved to California, settling in Chula Vista about 1921. They purchased a lemon ranch at the edge of the Chula Vista golf course, and Margot won many honors as a golfer at the club. It wasn’t until about 1925 that she seriously began to return her attention to art. Marius also became interested in painting, and took his first instruction from his wife. The lemon ranch provided their livelihood, allowing the couple to devote much of their time to art. It was not long before they were both recognized as important and progressive members of San Diego’s art community.

The Rocles traveled in Europe, North Africa and Mexico to seek subject matter and keep in touch with the international art scene. They owned work by several of the important masters of the day including the European artists Maurice de Vlamink, Ramon de Zubiaurre and Suzanne Valadon, and the Mexican artists Jose Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera and Jean Charlot. Margot was a member of the Society of Independent Artists, Salons of America, San Francisco Society of Women Painters, Laguna Beach Art Association, and the San Diego Art Guild. She was also one of the original members of the San Diego Moderns founded in the early 1930s. Although known primarily as a painter, Margot also worked in lithography and exhibited at least one sculpture.

Margot maintained a remarkable exhibit record from the late 1920s to the early 1940s. Her work was continually selected for important exhibitions and frequently singled out for special comment in reviews. Among numerous awards, she received honorable mentions at the exhibit of Southern California Art at the San Diego Fine Arts Gallery in 1931 and 1933, second prize at the Santa Cruz Art Association in 1932, and the Leisser-Farnham Memorial prize at the 25th Anniversary Silver Jubilee Exhibition of the San Diego Art Guild in 1939. Her work was exhibited at the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago in 1933, the California Pacific International Exposition in San Diego in 1935, and the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco in 1940. She was chosen to be one of “Five Women Painters” to exhibit at the Faulkner Memorial Art Gallery in Santa Barbara in 1939. Her subjects were frequently portraits or figure compositions although she did produce a number of lithographs of horses. Reviewers often praised her use of color.

After the premature death of two sons, and with young twin daughters to raise, the Rocles began to turn their attention away from art. Little was heard from them in art circles after 1940. About 1950, they purchased a ranch in Ramona. Moving there in 1955, they continued their second great interest, raising saddlebred and Arabian horses. Marius died in Ramona in 1967, Margot in 1981.

[from Kamerling, Bruce. “Painting Ladies: Some Early San Diego Women Artists.” The Journal of San Diego History 32.3 (Summer 1986): 179-181.]


See also:

Kamerling, Bruce. “Margaret King Rocle.” The Journal of San Diego History 40.3 (Summer 1994): 96-111.

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