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 John Koch  (1909 - 1978)

About: John Koch


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Lived/Active: New York/Ohio      Known for: genre-interiors, portrait, still life

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BIOGRAPHY for John Koch
1909 (Toledo, Ohio)

New York/Ohio

Self portrait - John Koch - Self Portrait

Often Known For
genre-interiors, portrait, still life

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Painters of Nudes
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
John Koch, born in Toledo, Ohio in 1909, was an American realist best known for his paintings of fashionable Manhattan and New England mansion dwellers.

Koch's early art training was minimal. He attended two summers at the artists' colony at Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he was influenced by the work and theory of Charles Hawthorne. After graduating from high school, he went to Paris, where he stayed for four years painting on his own, never under a teacher. As he later recalled, "the Louvre taught me my major lessons."

At a time when the world seemed to turn its back on the realist tradition, Koch persisted and presented intimate views of his personal world. His paintings are populated with models, musicians, views of his studio, and his own elegant fourteen-room apartment facing Central Park West in New York City.

His wife was a pianist and instructor and often Koch's paintings were of her students. "Music," one of Koch's most representative interior scenes, pictures Koch's wife, Dora Zaslovsky, teaching her student, the well-known musician Abbey Simon. A combination of outdoor and artificial light, used by Koch since 1950, imbues the scene with a clear light. The diagonal line created by the direction of Simon's gaze and Mrs. Koch's gesture connects the two sides of the scene, which is divided by the glass shelves in the middle. The terra cotta figurines on each side of the bottom shelf echo the positions of the two people. This symbolic and compositional relationship between objects and people is characteristic of Koch, and is used by him often.

In defense of his seemingly "upper-crust" subject matter, Koch once stated, "I have great affection for ... dishonored subject matter ... [because of] the arbitrary ... way in which it has been dismissed. Have (sic) the sensuous, the lyrical elements really been expelled from modern life? Of course not. Is modern man exclusively occupied with his own tragic plight, his neuroses, his destruction? This ... is as much the sentimentality of our day as was the sweetness and light for which we so tirelessly berate the Victorians."

Although Koch is generally viewed as a painter of the rich and famous, he was not just a superficial 'society painter'. As Koch himself stated, "I am quite visibly a realist, occupied essentially with human beings, the environments they create, and their relationships." His style is akin to the work of the seventeenth-century Dutch master Jan Vermeer, evoking quiet, intimate interiors, and creating luminous effects by underpainting in egg tempera and glazing with oils. Koch's compositions were elegant. His warm tones and colors invited you into his world where, as you investigate the contents, you discover treasures amongst his beautifully observed objects.

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