(1880 - 1965)
Abraham Walkowitz was active/lived in New York / Russian Federation. Abraham Walkowitz is known for modernist figure-genre, town-landscape painting, drawing.
Biography from the Archives of askART
The following is by Dr. Theodore W. Eversole:
Biography from the Archives of askART
Walkowitz (1878-1965 ) is perhaps best known for his watercolor studies
of Isadora Duncan and the dance. However, Walkowitz laid claim to being
the first to exhibit truly Modernist paintings in the United States.
After 1909, he became an intimate of Alfred Stieglitz' 291 Gallery, and
whilst there became a participant in the debate over Modern Art in
America. Walkowitz was an outspoken proponent of the continuous
experimentation in the arts, which was his definition of Modernism. As
an artist, Walkowitz embodied the changing role of the Modernist
painter in the United States, as Modernism moved from avant-garde
protest against established modes to become an accepted style and
Abraham Walkowitz, was a Russian born, turn-of-the
century immigrant to the United States, who grew up in New York's Lower
East Side. He first studied art at the Educational Alliance, the Cooper
Union, and the National Academy of Design. In 1906, he journeyed to
Europe where he studied at the Academie Julian in Paris. Upon his
return to the United States in 1907, he became a fully-fledged convert
to Modernism, and his first exhibit, at the Haas Gallery in that year,
brought him a measure of notoriety as well as the attention of
Stieglitz and other pioneers of Non-Objective art.
subsequent years, he became one of the most exhibited painters shown at
the 291 Gallery, a fact which was also reflected in the pages of
Stieglitz' polemical journal of Modernism, Camera Work.
result of this early attention, by the time of the Armory Show of 1913
to which Walkowitz contributed several paintings, his work was widely
known to both fellow Modernists as well as their opponents. Walkowitz
was clearly part of the new vocabulary of American art and criticism.
the 1920s and 1930s, as the first generation Modernists lost their
revolutionary cast, and as American Realism gained in favor, Walkowitz
continued his experiments with form and line, especially in his series
of Duncan studies. Although his paintings received less critical
attention than they once had, Walkowitz was clearly one of the grand
old folk of American Modernism. During the Depression, Walkowitz was
politically active on behalf of unemployed artists supporting various
New Deal initiatives in the Arts.
In the 1940s Walkowitz
gained national attention when he explored the varieties of the
Modernist vision in the form of an exhibit of 100 portraits of
Walkowitz by 100 artists. The result was widely discussed and was
featured in Life Magazine in 1944.
In 1945, Walkowitz
travelled to Kansas where he painted landscapes made up largely of
strip mines and barns. This was to be his last venture in active
painting for, by 1946, the glaucoma which was to lead to his eventual
blindness began to impair his vision and limit his ability to work.
Walkowitz then turned to the preparation of a series of volumes of his
drawings, designed to illustrate the development of Modernism in the
Twentieth Century, and in so doing, established his role as a pioneer
About Primary Sources from Dr. Eversole:
Archives of American Art, Washington Center, 8th and F Streets,
Washington, D.C. 20560, has been a most helpful depository for research
materials in the field of modern American Art. Besides maintaining the
Abraham Walkowitz papers, the Archives also freely lent to the author a
variety of other collateral source material such as: the Max Weber
papers, the Whitney Museum files, the Downtown Gallery Papers, and a
complete transcript of the December 1958 Interview with Abraham
Walkowitz conducted by Abram Lerner and Bartlett Cowdrey in New York.
center for Walkowitz source material was the Beinecke Rare Book and
Manuscript Library, Yale University. Here was preserved the Alfred
Stieglitz Archive, which contained the StieglitzWalkowitz
correspondence, in addition to the Carl Van Vechten Abraham Walkowitz
correspondence. Both Donald Gallup, one time Curator of the Collection
of American Literature, and Miss Georgia O'Keeffe deserved special
thanks for allowing me to have access to this material. The Abraham
Walkowitz artist's file at the New York City Public Library also
contained useful information.
However, one of the most
intriguing aspects of this study was the author's chance to create his
own file of primary materials on Walkowitz. This includes
correspondence and recollections from artists, friends, family, gallery
associates and others. In other words, a file was created of all those
Walkowitz acquaintances who answered my research inquiries. This
research file is now part of the Theodore W. Eversole Collection at the
University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio.
Also of importance
was the collection of assorted taped oral interviews with some
especially knowledgeable people; this was clearly the case with the
interviews with Dr. Rosa Prigosen, Walkowitz' niece and benefactor, and
Ms. Virginia Zabriskie, of the Zabriskie Gallery, The Fuller Building,
41 East 57th Street, New York, New York, who remains a major handler of
Walkowitz' work. Further, Virginia Zabriskie established, in 1993, a
significant archive for Walkowitz study at the University Gallery,
University of Delaware, through a gift of over 1500 drawings and
objects, including 400 drawings of Isadora Duncan.
An early modernist painter known for abstract figurative works,
especially in watercolor, Abraham Walkowitz was born in Siberia where
his father, a lay rabbi and cantor, died while ministering in China to
Jewish soldiers who had been conscripted into the Russian army.
Biography from Mark Borghi Fine Art Inc
of persecution and the possibility of her son being drafted into the
Czar's army when he came of age, Walkowitz's mother decided to emigrate
with her children to the United States. En route across Europe,
one of her three daughters died. The remaining family traveled
steerage for twenty days across the Atlantic, finally settling in the
Jewish ghetto of New York City where mother and son worked long hours
at a newspaper stand to support the family.
As a youth,
Walkowitz studied the violin and drew continuously in chalk on any
surface he could find. His formal art training began at age
fourteen at the Artist's Institute and continued at the National
Academy of Design. His studies in life drawing, etching and
painting, with concurrent study of anatomy at a Fifth Avenue hospital,
resulted in precise, detailed renderings.
He made drawings of
ghetto life which were published in local newspapers. To earn money for
a trip to Europe, Walkowitz taught art classes and painted signs.
When his figurative work was criticized as being too subjective and
realistic at a juried Academy exhibition, he perceived the criticism as
narrow-minded and became all the more open to the avant-garde ideas he
encountered in Europe.
Walkowitz began to use watercolor early
in his career, gradually moving from dark, subdued colors and realistic
depictions, to fresher, lighter colors following the techniques of the
Impressionists. According to biographer William Innes Homer, "Although
[Walkowitz] eventually shifted from a figurative style to abstraction,
his fine, inventive sense of color prevailed in both modes of painting,
and indeed found its freest, most intuitive expression in the medium of
Another biographer, Martica Sawin, observed that
while Walkowitz regarded his work prior to 1920 as the most significant
period of his art, he continued to paint prolifically into the 1940s
when his eyesight began to fail.
He was honored in 1963, three
years before his death, by the American Academy of Arts and Letters
with an award annually given to a distinguished elderly artist.
An account by Kent Smith of the event describes Walkowitz as a small,
silky-haired blind man honored by a crowd that "rose to its feet and
applauded in thunderous ovation for twenty minutes as the frail figure
beamed in obvious delight . . ."
Abraham Walkowitz, Figuration 1895-1945 by Kent Smith
Abraham Walkowitz by William Innes Homer
Abraham Walkowitz, 1878-1965 by Martica Sawin
Abraham Walkowitz and the Struggle for an American Modernism, Ph.D., 1976. Doctoral dissertation by Theodore Eversole at the University of Cincinnati.
Born in Siberia in 1878, Walkowitz was brought at about age five by his mother to the U.S. following his father's death. Settling into the Jewish ghetto of New York City, Walkowitz drew prodigiously as a child, and attended the Artists Institute and the National Academy of Design as a student. When his natural tendency towards experimentation was criticized, instead of giving in he opened up to the fresh influence of the budding European avant-garde.
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Saving his money, in 1906 he joined the small flow of American expatriate artists following Alfred Maurer's lead to Paris. There he attended the Academie Julian and soaked up the newly emerging innovations of Cubism, Fauvism, and the movement towards abstraction. Perhaps of greatest consequence to the artist, he first met the dancer Isadora Duncan during this stay. He ultimately made more drawings of her than I have hairs on my head, by his own account, recalling her figure as his archtype for the next four decades, even well after her death.
A selection of these Duncan drawings play a central part in the present exhibition.These drawings, at times highlighted with a wash of color that defines Duncan's dress, resemble the movement studies now familiar to any art student. Line is used to react to a model in motion--feeling out the look of the figure replaces the careful observation that goes into extended posing.
Walkowitz' movement studies, however, arose out of a spirit of innovation rather than an art school environment. He was developing a felt sensibility, an intuitively expressive set of marks. While Walkowitz never developed an art that was sufficiently commanding or original to place him at the front rank of American Modernism, his place immediately behind was well earned. It is difficult to appreciate the level of inner certainty Walkowitz and other members of the nascent avant-garde clearly possessed--from the time of his first exhibition in 1908 he had to learn to accept ridicule.
As a member of Alfred Steiglitz' inner circle and a regular exhibitor at his renowned 291 Gallery until it closed in 1917, and as an active participant in the keystone Armory Show of 1913, Walkowitz quite knowingly accepted that often times large numbers of visitors would attend his shows and those of his close colleagues not to admire but to laugh at what they saw.
After the First World War the artist continued to work prolifically, though within parameters already set before the War, until the late 1940s, when his eyesight failed. In 1963, two years before his death, the blind artist was honored by the American Academy of Arts and Letters, to some degree bearing out his own description of the career of an artist: first jeers, then sneers, and finally cheers
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