Artist Spotlight: John Koch

Koch's society paintings grow more charming as time passes, but his paintings of handsome nudes reveal a more intriguing point of view.

BY Christopher Harrity

July 27 2013 6:29 AM ET

John Koch was dismissed by the more progressive art scene as a society painter. He was little known outside his circle of wealthy, connected patrons. But time has a way of revealing something pleasurable that may have been ignored at the time.

Koch (1909-1978) captured scenes of a New York society that is mostly gone now. The value of seeing his work isn't just the paintings on their own, it has to do with the delight in viewing a world more formal and refined.

And then there are his paintings of nudes — sometimes languorous and erotic, where the artist's eye is the fourth unseen wall. Others are staged self portraits of Koch as the artist with models appearing more naked than they would have for the presence of his fully dressed and distracted figure along side them.

Koch's style would have been referred to as realistic, but his realism was tinged with the blurry fantasy of Park Avenue Bohemia. This is society as it would like to see itself. Contemplative and arty with fine Chinese antiques and sumptuous drapes. Now that the heat of Abstract Impressionism is off, the work has an elegant bittersweet feel.

But beyond the well-heeled devotees who were certain they were upholding "tradition" there are the sensuous nudes. They dare us to believe that the story ended with a shared cigarette in a dusty studio, the smell of oil paint and the setting sun catching the model and artist in an intimate moment.


Bacchanal, 1952

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