Abraham Walkovitz 1878 —1965

Biography

Abraham Walkowitz was born in Siberia where his father was a lay rabbi and cantor, who died while ministering in China to Jewish soldiers who had been conscripted into the Russian army. Fearful 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.

Abraham Walkowitz studied art first at the Educational Alliance, then Cooper Union, and finally the National Academy of Design. In his earliest work, he made drawings of ghetto life which were published in local newspapers. To earn money for his 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 coming from Europe. Abraham Walkowitz laid claim to being the first Modernist artist in the United States already adopting the modernist idiom into his works by 1905. 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 exhibited at the Haas Gallery in New York. This brought him a measure of notoriety as well as the attention of Alfred Stieglitz and others of the avant-garde. After 1909, he became an intimate of Alfred Stieglitz' 291 Gallery, and while there participated in the historic debate over Modern Art in America. Walkowitz was an outspoken proponent of the continuous experimentation in the arts which was his definition of Modernism and continued in his role as modernist as Modernism moved from avant-garde protest against established modes to become an accepted style and tradition. He became one of the most exhibited painters shown at the 291 Gallery, a fact which was well reflected in the pages of Stieglitz' valuable and extensive journal of Modernism, Camera Work.

As a result of this early attention, by the time of the historic 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.

During 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 again 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 held at The Brooklyn Museum. The result was widely discussed and was featured in Life Magazine in 1944. His career as a painter continued for only a few more years as glaucoma slowly impaired his vision.

 

 

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Works by Abraham Walkowitz are in many museums including; Phoenix Art Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Cantor Arts Center, Stanford, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian American Art Museum, The Phillips Collection, Delaware Art Museum, Lowe Art Museum, Spencer Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Smith College Museum of Art, University of Michigan Museum of Art, Frederick Weisman Art Museum, Reynolda House, Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, The Newark Museum, The Brooklyn Museum of Art, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Canajoharie Art Gallery, Arnot Art Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Everson Museum of Art, The Columbus Museum of Art,The Chrysler Museum of Art, Robert Hull Fleming Museum, University of Wyoming Art Museum and the Michelson Museum of Art.

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