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Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Many Faces of Abraham Walkowitz

In 1944, the Brooklyn Museum exhibited the aptly titled show One Hundred Artists and Walkowitz, an exhibition featuring portraits of the artist Abraham Walkowitz created by (naturally!) one hundred of his artist friends and colleagues. The portraits were commissioned and completed during the previous year, though a few were from the earlier part of the century. The artists represented varied in style, from Abstract to Modern to Realism, and the works were not limited to paintings -- also included were sculpture and graphic arts.

A strong supporter and participant in the Modern Art movement in America at the beginning of the 20th century, Abraham Walkowitz (1878-1965) may be best known to art historians for his studies of the dancer Isadora Duncan and his abstract series, “Improvisations of New York.” Contributing his work to the 1913 Armory Show as well as many exhibitions at New York’s 291 Gallery, both Walkowitz’s career and Ĺ“uvre are fascinating. Active in New York City, his contemporaries included modernists William Gropper, Joseph Stella and Max Weber, and it was these and other fellow artists that he called upon to help with what he termed “the experiment of 100 artists*.”

Isadora Duncan I, Abraham Walkowitz
Improvisations of New York, Abraham Walkowitz
In addition to the show at the Brooklyn Museum, Walkowitz also published a corresponding exhibition catalogue, and the portraits were featured in a lengthy article in Life magazine. During a recent cataloging project for the Peter A. Juley & Son collection, I came across images of the Walkowitz portraits that appear to have been used in those publications associated with the exhibition. This would make sense as the Juley photography firm was often hired by museums and artists for photos of artwork that could be used in exhibition catalogs and publicity ephemera.

I also found this interesting -- following the exhibition, much of the artwork was gifted by Abraham Walkowitz to various museums (including the Brooklyn Museum and the Newark Museum). Others are either with private galleries or owners, but of the remaining portraits that are unaccounted for, it’s possible that at some point they may have been destroyed. There were several images from the Juley Collection that I was unable to identify and it could be that we are fortunate enough to have documentation of those portraits that no longer exist. Similar to the portraits, there is group of Juley images of watercolors and drawings by Walkowitz that could not be identified. During his interview* with the Archives of American Art in 1958, he mentions that at one point there was a studio fire in which many of his own works were destroyed.

Abraham Walkowitz, Concetta Scaravaglione
Abraham Walkowitz, Unknown Artist
*Oral history interview with Abraham Walkowitz, 1958 Dec. 8 & 22, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

The Peter A. Juley & Son Collection contains 127,000 black-and-white photographic negatives documenting the work of more than 11,000 American artists. Peter A. Juley (1862-1937) and his son Paul P. Juley (1890-1975) headed the largest and most respected fine arts photography firm in New York from 1906 to 1975. Their clients included major artists, galleries, museums, and private collectors of the period.

For more examples of the Walkowitz portraits as well the artist’s own work, check out our collection catalog on SIRIS.

--Rachel Brooks, Photograph Archives, Smithsonian American Art Museum

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