A refugee from czarist Russia, where he was an officer in the cavalry regiment of Grand Duke Michael and in the footguard of Czar Nicholas, John Graham arrived in the United States in 1920, where he began his second career as an artist and critic. His early training at the Art Students League with such teachers as John Sloan and Kenneth Hayes Miller from 1922 to 1924 is in sharp contrast to his subsequent avant-garde association. He made frequent trips to Paris and became friendly with the Surrealist group there, although his style remained eclectic: while his figurative painting displayed affinities with Giorgio de Chirico and André Derain, he was also making small, purely abstract compositions that he called "minimalist."
In the early 1940s Graham underwent a radical philosophical transition, during which his belief in Marxism and psychoanalysis was replaced by more magical thinking. His taste for modernism shifted to the old masters, particularly those of the Renaissance. Celia was painted during these transitional years and is one of the many portraits of imaginary women dating from this time. In these paintings he achieved a monumental reinterpretation of classical art. Here, the calm and dignity of the lovely woman, her elegant silhouette, and her monumental solidity are reminiscent of ancient Roman portraiture, of Ingres, and of Raphael, while the forms, as well as the curious sense of detachment from place and time hint at biomorphic Surrealist sculpture. The tension between the figure and the flat pictorial structure belies Graham's avowed dismissal of modernism. He maintained that he gave his sitters staring (sometimes crossed) eyes not as an expressive device, "but as a means to anchor space to a point in the room, to create more tension...to make the figures immutable, fixed and timeless."
Graham was also an active collector and critic of contemporary art, and encouraged the careers of many young artists. In 1942 he organized an exhibition in which he combined the works of the great European modernists—Picasso, Braque, Matisse—with young unknown American expressionists, among them Willem de Kooning, Lee Krasner, and Jackson Pollock. It was the first exhibition for the latter two. Arshile Gorky and the sculptor David Smith were also among his friends and admirers.
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Artist:John Graham (American (born Ukraine), Kiev 1881–1961 London)
Medium:Oil, casein, charcoal, chalk, graphite, and ink on Masonite
Dimensions:48 × 36 in. (121.9 × 91.4 cm)
Credit Line:Hugo Kastor Fund, 1968
Inscription: Inscribed (center left): IONANNUS
the artist (until d. 1961; his estate, 1961–62; sold in June 1962 to Emmerich]; [André Emmerich Gallery, New York, 1962–68; sold to MMA]
New York. Gallery Mayer. "Homage: John D. Graham," October 17–28, 1961, no. 14.
Arts Club of Chicago. "John Graham," September 26–October 31, 1963, no. 8.
Minneapolis. University Gallery, University of Minnesota. "Homage to John Graham," November 12, 1963–January 12, 1964, no. 8.
New York. André Emmerich Gallery. "Seven Decades, 1895–1965: Crosscurrents in Modern Art. 1945–1954," April 26–May 21, 1966, no. 249.
New York. Andre Emmerich Gallery. "John D. Graham, 1881–1961," May 25–June 30, 1966, no. 10.
Saratoga Springs, N. Y. Skidmore College. "John D. Graham, 1881–1961," February 1–27, 1967, no. 19.
New York. Marlborough-Gerson Gallery. "The New York Painter, A Century of Teaching: Morse to Hofmann," September 27–October 14, 1967, unnumbered cat. (p. 61).
Museum of Modern Art, New York. "John D. Graham, Paintings and Drawings," August 13–October 13, 1968, no. 6 (lent by the André Emmerich Gallery, New York).
Athens. Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia. "John D. Graham, Paintings and Drawings," December 3–24, 1968, no. 6.
Grinnell, Iowa. Grinnell College. "John D. Graham, Paintings and Drawings," January 21–February 11, 1969, no. 6.
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. "John D. Graham, Paintings and Drawings," April 18–May 26, 1969, no. 6.
San Juan. El Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña. "Arte del Siglo Veinte: EE.UU. del Museo Metropolitano de Arte," April 19–May 31, 1974, no. 20.
Washington, D.C. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution. "The Golden Door: Artist-Immigrants of America, 1876–1976," May 20–October 20, 1976, no. 76.
Moscow. State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. "Representations of America," December 15, 1977–February 15, 1978, no catalogue.
Leningrad. State Hermitage Museum. "Representations of America," March 15–May 15, 1978, no catalogue.
Minsk, Belarus. Palace of Art. "Representations of America," June 15–August 15, 1978, no catalogue.
Jacksonville, Fla. Jacksonville Art Museum. "The Figure in 20th Century American Art: Selections from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," February 9–April 21, 1985, unnumbered cat. (p. 127).
Oklahoma City. Oklahoma Museum of Art. "The Figure in 20th Century American Art: Selections from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," May 5–June 30, 1985, unnumbered cat.
New York. National Academy of Design. "The Figure in 20th Century American Art: Selections from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," July 16–September 1, 1985, unnumbered cat.
Evanston, Ill. Terra Museum of American Art. "The Figure in 20th Century American Art: Selections from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 15–November 10, 1985, unnumbered cat.
Little Rock. Arkansas Arts Center. "The Figure in 20th Century American Art: Selections from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," November 12, 1985–January 19, 1986, unnumbered cat.
Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. "The Figure in 20th Century American Art: Selections from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," February 9–March 30, 1986, unnumbered cat.
St. Paul. Minnesota Museum of Art. "The Figure in 20th Century American Art: Selections from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," April 20–June 8, 1986, unnumbered cat.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "American Painting: 1905–1950," April 19–October 7, 1991, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art [The Met Breuer]. "Kerry James Marshall Selects: Works from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," October 25, 2016–January 29, 2017, no catalogue (p. 267 in "Kerry James Marshall: Mastry" exhibition catalogue).
Water Mill. Parrish Art Museum. "John Graham: Maverick Modernist," May 7–July 30, 2017, no. 52.
Dore Ashton. "Exhibition at the Andre Emmerich Gallery." Studio 172 (August 1966), p. 100, ill.
Barbara Rose. "The New York Painter." Artforum 6 (November 1967), p. 7, ill. p. 58.
Henry Geldzahler in "Reports of the Departments." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 28 (October 1969), pp. 63–64, dates it 1944–45.
Henry Geldzahler in "Twentieth Century Art." The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1965–1975. New York, 1975, p. 209, ill.
Lowery Stokes Sims. The Figure in 20th Century American Art: Selections from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., Jacksonville Art Museum. New York, 1984, pp. 115, 124, 126–27, ill.
Mark M. Johnson. "The Figure in Twentieth-Century American Art." Arts and Activities 98 (November 1985), p. 25, ill. (color).
John Brandenburg. "Museum's Offerings Tell Story of 20th Century America." Daily Oklahoman/Times (May 30, 1985), p. 15, dates it 1944.
Eugene Victor Thaw. "The Abstract Expressionists." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 44 (Winter 1986–87), p. 21, fig. 15.
Maureen Mullarkey. "Tuesday at the Met." Hudson Review 40 (Summer 1987), p. 200, notes its omission from a MMA permanent collection display in the Lilsa Acheson Wallace Wing in 1987.
Roberta Smith. "A Trans-Atlantic View of Modernism." New York Times (January 9, 2015), p. C30, ill. (installation photo).
Karen Wilkin inJohn Graham: Maverick Modernist. Exh. cat., Parrish Art Museum. Water Mill, N.Y., 2017, pp. 103, 175, no. 52, colorpl. 53.
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