John von Wicht
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Johannes Von Wicht was born in Holstein, Germany on February 3, 1888. His mother moved the family to Oldenburg when Von Wicht was in elementary school and he began to visit the artist Gerhard Bakenhus. Bakenhus helped familiarize Von Wicht with old masters while guiding him through rigorous nature studies. Soon John Von Wicht’s mother had arranged for him to apprentice at the studio of master painter F.W. Adels. There he learned to prepare paints with linseed oil and later commented on the lasting impression of colors throughout his career. Interior of a Farmhouse was his first painting completed in 1907. Gerhard Bakenhus was able to include the painting to in the Bremer Kunsthalle exhibition in 1908. Due to the critical success of this piece Von Wicht was accepted to the private art school of the Grand Duke of Hesse in Darmstadt. Fundamental themes of simplicity, nature, and poetry were instilled in the students. Von Wicht 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.
During his service in WWI Von Wicht was wounded and partially paralyzed. While recovering he worked on book designs and illustrations. In 1923 Von Wicht 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 moving to work at Ravenna Mosaic. While working for the mosaic company, Von Wicht designed a vestibule for the St. Louis Cathedral in a classic Byzantine manner. After a few years he had established enough contacts to become an independent mosaic contractor, setting up an office on Park Ave to handle private commissions, with a studio in Brooklyn Heights.
Von Wicht’s first attempt at abstraction was not until 1937 when he created his “Force” series in watercolor, commemorating Juliana Force, the first director of the Whitney Museum of American Art. This group of paintings were clearly influenced by Kandinsky’s geometrical abstractions. In 1941 Von Wicht was accepted into a show at the Whitney, whereupon he was recognized and acknowledged both by his critics as well as his peers. Challenged by cubism and surrealism, Von Wicht had yet to find his own personal artistic vocabulary within abstract expressionism. By 1950 Von Wicht was painting full time and able to explore his personal expression of abstraction as a mature artist, returning to drawing in order to solve problems of content and composition. Far Eastern calligraphy was a major influence for Von Wicht that moved his works into a more vertical format. In 1951 Von Wicht had his second solo exhibit at the Passedoit Gallery, which won him much critical acclaim.
As he became more established as an abstract artist, Von Wicht began to experiment with a variety of themes. He held another show at the Passedoit in 1954 with works based on musical symphonies, using elements of abstraction to provide a spiritual analysis of the music itself. He created innovative works on rice paper while spending a winter at the McDowell Colony, an artist-in residence program in New Hampshire. He attempted automatic sketching as a direct translation of inner movement to find equilibrium within his work.
Towards the end of the 1950’s, Von Wicht contract with the Passedoit Gallery ended and he moved to the Bertha Schaefer Gallery. His first European show was in held 1959 in Paris, with others following in Brussels, Liege, and Belgium. The following year Von Wicht returned to the McDowell 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 immense freedom through various concentrations of color. During this time Von Wicht also began over-painting, taking older canvases and reworked them, often completely changing the content of the original piece. These reworked pieces became heavier with a much deeper surface texture both in content and form.
During the last years of his life Von Wicht worked on compositions with themes of the four seasons. These pieces were quite similar to the impressionist’s technique of observing different light and form under various circumstances and times of day. The decisive geometric elements that were hallmarks of his earlier work shifted as he matured. Von Wicht’s later pieces touched on the spiritual and natural realms of being, using color to reach viewers emotions directly though pure form. Von Wicht died of pneumonia on January 20th, 1970 in Brooklyn and was remembered by those who knew him as an “artist’s artist”.
Compiled by Lauren A. Zelaya
Works for sale
1888 Born in Holstein, Germany on February 3rd
1908 First painting, entitled Interior of a Farmhouse (1907) appears in the Bremer Kunsthalle exhibition in Germany
1909-10 Attends private art school of the Grand Duke of Hesse in Darmstadt
1911 Work is included in the Free Berlin Secession exhibition
1912 Attends School of Fine and Applied Arts, Berlin
1923 Moves to the United States
1923-25 Begins working at the U.S. Printing and Lithography Company
1924 First solo exhibition in the US at the Brooklyn Institute of Art and Science
1925 Starts working at Ravenna Mosaic
1936 Becomes a United States citizen
1937 Produces first abstract watercolor painting series, entitled Force, a commemoration of Juliana Force, the first director of the Whitney Museum of American Art
1941, 1942 Exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
1941 First exhibits at the Whitney Museum of American Art, where his work shows consistently in Annuals and Biennials until 1967
1951-1952 Teaches at the Art Students League of New York
1953 Teaches at John Herron Art Institute, Indianapolis, IN
1954 Residency at the MacDowell Artists Colony, Peterborough NH
1970 Dies of pneumonia on January 22 in Brooklyn, NY
1950, 1955 Brooklyn Museum Exhibition Prize
1958 Audubon Artists Exhibition Medal
1958 Boston Art Festival Prize
1960 Ford Foundation Purchase Prize
1924 Brooklyn Institute of Art and Science
1936 Architects Building, NYC
1939 Theodore A. Kohn & Son, NYC
1944 Artists’ Gallery, NYC
1947 University of California, Los Angeles
1950 Passedoit Gallery, NYC (1951, 1952, 1954, 1956, 1957, 1958)
1953 John Herron Art Institute, Indianapolis, IN
1959 Galerie Internationale d’Art Contemporain, Paris, France
Galerie Europe, Bruselles, Belgium
Association pour e Progrés Inteel et Artistique de la Wallonie (APIAW),
Esther Robles Gallery, Los Angeles
Santa Barbara Museum, Santa Barbara
1960 Galeria Mayer, Madrid, Spain
1960 The Bertha Schaefer Gallery, NYC (1962, 1964, 1966)
1962 Galerie Neufville, Paris
1964 Galerie Leonhard, Munich, Germany
1966 Joseph Grippi Gallery, NYC
1973 Oscar Krasner Gallery, NYC
1979 Marden Fine Arts, NYC
1989 Galerie Kaupa, Germany
1990 “Kunstverein March,” Germany
1992 Galerie Michael Rasche, Freiburg, Germany (2000)
1993 Gallery Berman-Daferner, NYC (1995)
1993 Susan Teller Gallery, NYC
1999 Kraushaar Gallery, NYC
2002 Ostholsteinsches Landesmuseum, Eutin, Germany
1940 Galerie St. Etienne, NYC
1941 Metropolitan Museum of Art (1942)
1945-48 Brooklyn Museum (1960, 1964)
1941 Whitney Museum of American Art Annuals and Biennials 1946-1948, 1950-1952,
1954-1956, 1959-1963, 1965-1967)
1946 National Academy Galleries, NYC
1947 Riverside Museum, NYC (1948-1951, 1954, 1955, 1966, 1968)
1946 Kleeman Gallery, NYC (1949)
1947 Grand Central Art Galleries, Inc., NYC (1948)
1948 Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, NJ (1954)
1950 Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA
Palais des Beaux Arts de la Ville de Paris, France
New School for Social Research, NYC
1951 Museum of Modern Art
National Arts Club, NYC
Bertha Schaefer Gallery (1952, 1954, 1955)
1952 The Print Club, Philadelphia, PA (1954, 1955)
Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, OH (1954, 1958)
1954 Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC (1959)
1965 The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH
1969 Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
1991 “The Second Wave: American Abstraction of the 1930s and 1940s,” Worchester Art Museum, MA
1996 “A Century of MacDowell Colony Artists,” The Currier Art Gallery, Manchester, NH
Museu de Mallorca, Mallorca, Spain
1999 “The Stamp of Impulse: Abstract Expressionist Paintings,” Worchester
Art Museum, MA
American Abstract Artists
Audubon Society of Artists
Brooklyn Society of Artists
National Society of Mural Painters
North Shore Art Association
Salons of America
Works by the artist may be found at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, as well as at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
Marika Herskovic, ed. American Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s: An Illustrated Survey. New York: New York School Press, 2003.
Ann Lee Morgan. Oxford Dictionary of American Art and Artists. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc, 2007.
Tony Vevers. Provincetown Abstract Painting: 1915-1950, From the Penny and Elton Yasuna Collection [exhibition catalogue]. Provincetown, MA: Provincetown Art Association and Museum, 1994.
Tom Wolf. “The MacDowell Colony: The Genesis of an Art Colony.” American Art Review 8, no. 64 (1996): 148- 157.
Peter Hastings Falk, ed. Who was who in American art 1564-1975: 400 years of artists in America. Madison, CT: Sound View Press, 1999; p.3424.