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 John Barber  (1898 - 1965)

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: genre-work, illustration, figure

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Ad Code: 3
John Barber
from Auction House Records.
A Provincetown Scene
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Galatz, Romania, John Barber became a modernist painter of figures and scenes of daily life.

He emigrated from Romania with his family to the United States in 1908.  His first art instruction came from his grandfather, and from 1909 to 1910, he studied at the National Academy of Design in New York City.  However, he thought the teaching was too rigid and was much happier at the Ferrer Center School where he took lessons from Robert Henri.  The social realism of Henri had much influence on Barber, and he became a part of Henri's circle devoted to depictions of urban life.  By 1916, he was an illustrator for the radical magazine, The Masses.

In 1917, he was drafted and was briefly in France, where in 1920, after a brief return to New York, he took up residency with his friend, Jules Pascin and was much influenced by Cubism.  He studied at Andre L'Hote's School Odessa and learned L'Hote's principles regarding shapes as distinct and animated in space.  Barber focused on portrait and figure studies as geometric patterns spatially related.  A trip to Italy caused him to be much impressed and influenced by early Renaissance painters Giotto and Piero della Francesco.

In 1927, he returned to the United States with Pascin and pursued geometric figure painting, and then spent several years in France and Portugal with intermittent returns to New York.  The remainder of his life, he went back and forth from Europe to America, even during World War II, and earned an international reputation for his painting of daily life that included satirical scenes of industrial America.

In 1948, he married Dr. Margaret De Ronde, and they traveled extensively in Mexico, Europe, and throughout the United States.  He died of leukemia on December 8, 1965.

Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
John Barber (1893-1965)

Barber's English father Frederick and his mother, from Romania, ran an intellectual and multi-lingual household in Galatz.  Around 1908 the family moved to New York City. That year, Robert Henri and his group soon to be known as the Ash Can School made their stunning debut at Macbeth's Gallery.  John Barber, just fifteen, entered the National Academy of Design a couple of years later. Then as a student of the Ferrer Center School he came into contact with Henri, and William Gropper was one of his fellow students.  Barber was also encouraged by Jules Pascin.  He must have met Max Eastman at the Ferrer Center, which led him to contribute to The Masses.  Before long Barber was Contributing Art Editor. Naturally his subject matter veered toward social realism.

Barber devised an unusual way to protest his being drafted to serve in the first world war.  Professing Christian Science, he refused treatment for varicocele, which would have allowed him to perform his military duties.  He received a dishonorable discharge and was sent to a prison camp.  When conscientious objectors were freed following the Armistice, however, he received amnesty after the balance of his prison term was made in New York.  There followed a wave of disillusionment among intellectuals and a conservative trend in politics.  Barber was an isolated and detached artist.  He found work illustrating for The Masses' heir-apparent publication, The Liberator.

In 1922, Barber left for France. In Paris he did not fit into the bohemian milieu, which could have taken him away from his art.  While Pascin further influenced Barber's drawing style, André Lhote's cubism made its mark.  In the fall of 1923, six of the seven works Barber submitted to the Salon d'Automne were accepted.  The New York Herald wrote "The style of his work is very original."  Barber, Gropper, Art Young, Glenn O. Coleman, Jerome Meyers and others carried on the Henri realist tradition. Although considered old-fashioned, realism would remain ever present in America and Europe.  Barber made further trips to Europe and North Africa.  The majestic geometry of Piero della Francesca entered as yet another influence.  He discovered Lisbon in 1928, which proved to be a gold mine of artistic inspiration.  The serenity and classical simplicity of women bringing water from a fountain, bread bakers, or small groups of figures gathered at a marketplace attracted Barber aesthetically.  For Richard Love (John Barber: The Artist, The Man, 1981, p. 132), "Barber found that Portugal's curious and uncomplicated pattern of life not only reflected his image of classic art, but also that the poor people who show up in his canvases were images of universal austerity."  The Paris Galerie Zak organized a one-man show for Barber in October 1929.  Far away on Wall Street the stock market was about to crash.  Paris was losing its title as major art center, owing to the troubled economic situation.  Although Barber was able to sell two works to the Luxembourg Museum, he returned home since his five years maximum period of absentee citizenship had expired.  Another one-man show came in 1935 at the Ehrich-Newhouse Gallery in New York.  By October of that year he was back in Portugal but he returned to New York in April 1936.  Barber died in December of 1965.

Submitted by Tom Hosier of R.H. Love Galleries, Chicago

Love, Richard H. John Barber: The Artist, The Man. Chicago: Haase-Mumm Publishing Co., 1981.
John Barber 1893-1965. Selections from the Archive. Ed. David B. Lawall. Charlottesville, NC: Bayly Art Museum of the University of Virginia, 1992.

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