John Graham (1881 - 1961)
Soldiers Dansing, 1943
Oil on canvas
16 x 20 inches
Signed and dated at lower right: GRAHAM / XXXXIII
Titled, inscribed and signed on the reverse: SOLDIERS / DANSING / #E34 / GRAHAM
Andre Emmerich Gallery, Inc., New York, New York (label verso)
[Christie's, New York, February 1, 1989, sale #6751, lot 346]
John D. Graham was an influential figure in the early years of American modernism, both as an artist and as a connoisseur. He is credited as a major influence in the formation of Abstract Expressionism and in his work alternated between Abstraction and Realism.
Graham was born in Kiev on January 8, 1881 (or 1886 or 1887) with the name of Ivan Gratianovich Dombrovski. He fought in the Russian Revolution on the side of the Czar, was imprisoned, but escaped to Poland. He is thought to have arrived in New York City in about 1920. Once in New York, he hid himself behind a curtain of fact and myth.
In 1923 Graham enrolled at the Art Students League, working briefly as an assistant to John Sloan. There is little concrete information that Graham had any previous art experience. In 1925 he participated in the Tenth Whitney Annual Exhibition. That year he moved to Baltimore with the painter Elinor Gibson, the first of his two American wives. Before moving to the United States, he also had been twice married in Russia.
In Baltimore, he became associated with collector Duncan Phillips, who gave Graham his first one-person museum exhibition in 1929. He became an American citizen in 1927, although he lived and worked in both New York and Paris, becoming a catalyst in the transmission of European modernism to America. He counted among his friends such names as Stuart Davis, Dorothy Dehner, Arshile Gorky, Adolph Gottlieb, David Smith, Katherine Dreier, Willem de Kooning, and, in later years, Jackson Pollock.
His style was influenced by his acquaintances among the European avant-garde. He also embraced Surrealism, especially the dreamlike mystery and strange juxtaposition of objects characteristic of Giorgio de Chirico, and later the flattened forms and multiple vantage points of Cubism, drawing most heavily from the compositions of Pablo Picasso. Graham did not develop a signature style until he rejected modernism in the early 1940s; for the remaining 20 years of his career, Graham drew inspiration from Renaissance art and became devoted to painting realistic - though highly expressive - portraits of women.
Interested in African art, and very knowledgeable about European art, Graham is known to have influenced many American counterparts. He and his writing in the book, System and Dialectics of Art (1937) are thought to have greatly advanced the development of Abstract Expressionism. Graham believed that the subconscious mind contained distant past images and that through art, access to these memories could be gained.
Late in his life he was financially secure, but isolated from the art world because of his highly personal style. He spent many hours doing meditation and yoga, and corresponding with women friends, who included Ultra Violet, Andy Warhol's movie star, as well as the artist Francoise Gilot, friend of Pablo Picasso.
His art can be seen in several public collections including the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Detroit Institute of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh and The Phillips Collection of Washington, D.C.
Graham died in 1961 in London, England.