John Von Wicht 1888 —1970


Von Wicht marked his distinguished career with many awards, recognitions and memberships, such as the American Abstract Artists. The decisive geometric elements that held up Von Wicht’s earlier work later felt a release of associations, depicting an inner struggle with subject matter. His works were gestural yet carefully composed allowing for an individual touch upon spiritual and natural realms of being.

As an abstract artist, Von Wicht wanted color to reach viewers emotions directly though pure form.

Johannes Von Wicht was born in Malente, Germany on February 3rd, 1888. When John was in elementary school and he began to visit with the artist Gerhard Bakenhus. Bakenhus helped familiarize John with old masters and taught him rigorous nature studies in a strict manner. John’s mother arranged for him to apprentice at the studio of master painter F.W. Adels shortly thereafter. As a student he studied ancient art, Chinese and Japanese calligraphy, as well as Albrecht Dürer, Martin Schongauer, Hans Memling, and other German masters.  As a student he visited exhibitions of the newest painting-van Gogh, Cézanne, Munch, Gauguin, Kandinsky, and Franz Marc. His first painting was completed in 1907. It was included  in the Bremer Kunsthalle exhibition in 1908. Due to its critical success, John was accepted to the private art school of the Grand Duke of Hesse in Darmstadt. Fundamental values of simplicity, nature and poetry were instilled in students, which continued to be lasting themes in Von Wicht’s art. John continued to pursue the arts with a three year scholarship to the Royal School of Fine & Applied Arts in Berlin. There he was influenced by the city’s avant-garde art scene. In 1911 his work was included in the Free Berlin Secession exhibition.  Wounded and partially paralyzed in the trenches during World War I, von Wicht spent several years recovering, doing book design and illustration work, and looking at art. It was during this recuperation that he discovered Mondrian and Malevich. 

In 1923, with inflation devastating the German economy, he immigrated to the United States leaving a post-war Berlin and its economic hardships. He found his place at the Ardsley Art Academy in Brooklyn and secured a job at the U.S. Printing and Lithography Company. Later he moved on to Ravenna Mosaic in 1925. While working for the mosaic company, John designed a vestibule for the St. Louis Cathedral in a typical Byzentine manner. After a few more years work, he established enough contacts to become an independent contractor. He set up an office on Park Ave to handle private commissions and a studio in Brooklyn Heights.

JOHN VON WICHT-Exhibitions

Von Wicht had his first solo show, of mural designs, at the Architect's Building in 1936. He executed murals for radio station WNYC and at the New York World's Fair. Von Wicht’s first attempt at the abstract in artwork was not until 1937 when he created the “Force” series in watercolor. Kandinsky’s work had a clear influence in this series.  It was followed, in 1939, by an exhibition of his paintings at Theodor A. Kohn Gallery. The show at Kohn was well received by the New York press, and 1941 he was accepted into a show at the Whitney Museum of American Art.  His status in the art world was quickly recognized following this exhibition. He was now an abstract avant-garde artist. Although he was challenged by Cubism and Surrealism, Von Wicht had yet to find his own personal style of abstraction. 

This exposure cemented von Wicht's reputation as an abstract painter.  In 1951 Von Wicht has his second solo exhibit at the Passedoit Gallery which drew critical attention.  He held another show at the Passedoit in 1954 with works based on musical symphonies, using abstract art elements in a spiritual analysis of music.  Also in 1954 von Wicht received the first of twelve annual residencies at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire.

Towards the end of the 1950’s, Von Wicht finished his contract with the Passedoit Gallery and signed with the Bertha Schaefer Gallery, signaling a move in his professional career. His first European show was held in 1959 in Paris. Twenty seven works over the past two years were exhibited with overall success. Throughout 1959, his work was also shown in Brussels, Liege and Belgium. Twenty seven works over the past two years were exhibited with overall success. Throughout 1959, his work was also shown in Brussels, Liege and Belgium. In 1960 Von Wicht returned to the artist colony to complete five large canvases in the first 4 weeks he was back which include “On Black” “On Red” “Silanus” and “Vertical Abstraction”. These paintings created a feeling of space through various concentrations of color material with a sense of immense freedom. Von Wicht also began over-painting, in which he took older canvases and reworked them, sometimes completely changing the content. These works became heavier, with more surface texture

Throughout the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s he exhibited frequently, in solo and group exhibitions in New York and around the country. He was invited to join the American Abstract Artists and the Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors.

Von Wicht died of pneumonia on January 20th, 1970 in Brooklyn. He left the majority of his artwork to the Syracuse University Art Collection.  

Works by the artist are in the following museums:  Brooklyn Museum of Art; Butler Institute of American Art; Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh/CarnegieCincinnati Art Museum; Chrysler Museum of Art; The Columbus Museum-Georgia; Jewish Museum;   Frederick R Weisman Art Museum; Metropolitan Museum of Art;  Museum of Fine Arts Boston; University of Wyoming Art MuseumWhitney Museum of American Art;  and Yale University Art Gallery



1. John von Wicht, "Recollections," John von Wicht Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.  

2. Von Wicht's own recollections have provided the foundation for most subsequent writing about his early career.  

3. Virginia M. Mecklenburg. The Patricia and Phillip Frost Collection: American Abstraction, 1930-1945" (Washington, DC: National Museum of American Art and Smith sonian Institution Press, 1989), pp.174-175. Copyright 1989 Smithsonian Institution. All rights reserved.  

Von Wicht’s works are considered in the following volumes among others: Gail Levin  Kandinsky and the American Avant-Garde; A Century of MacDowell Colony Artists and Pousette Dart  American Painting Today. 

An important source for modern and contemporary American & European Art in East Hampton, New York & worldwide, Janet Lehr Fine Arts' spectacular wide-ranging inventory consists of unique paintings, drawings, large & small scale sculpture, monotypes, prints and photographs  by Ansel Adams, Milton Avery, Richard Avedon, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Romare Bearden, Fernando Botero, Cartier-Bresson, Marc Chagall, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Willem De Kooning, Richard Diebenkorn, Thomas Eakins, Childe Hassam, David Hockney, Winslow Homer, Wolf Kahn, Jeff Koons, Fernand Leger, Roy Lichtenstein, Man Ray, Thomas Moran, Henry Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Rothko, Cindy Sherman, Charles Sheeler, Bert Stern, Alfred Stieglitz, Andy Warhol, Carleton E Watkins, Tom Wesselmann and Andrew Wyeth.

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Mallorca (Brown, Red White an Light Blue)

Mallorca (Brown, Red White an Light Blue)
Oil on canvas

37.5 x 27.7.12 inches
Provenance: Acquired from the Artist; Bertha Schaefer Gallery NY

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