John Koch was born in 1909 in Toledo, Ohio, and spent his childhood in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He first pursued his interest in painting at the art colony of Provincetown, Massachusetts, in the summers of 1927 and 1928. Here, the work of instructor Charles Hawthorne made a deep impression on him.
Koch traveled abroad in Paris, independently pursuing the study of art through long stretches of time at the Louvre. He became a great admirer of the Old Masters, and was particularly taken with Peter Paul Rubens. His work earned an honorable mention at the Salon du Printemps in 1928. During this period, he also joined the Internationale Union des Intellectuals, joining together with André Gide, André Malraux, and Jean Cocteau. He was immersed in discussions of Surrealism, but rejected the style’s influence on his own work.
After returning to the United States, Koch settled in New York City, where he worked and lived until his death in 1978. He developed a bustling social life, and his inner circle included Edward Hopper, Paul Cadmus, Reginald Marsh, and Alice Neel, whose portrait he painted. Koch’s first solo exhibition was held in 1939 at the Kraushaar Galleries, where he continued to show his work in the ensuing years. His work received awards from the National Academy of Design in 1952, 1959, 1962, and 1964.
Koch depicted an exclusive post-war bohemia, and was partial to scenes of domestic intimacy. He frequently explored the relationship between models and the artist. His nudes were inspired by classical techniques, but placed in quotidian settings. Koch displayed a deep affection for objects through his still lifes, and collected paintings by John Singleton Copley, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Peter Paul Rubens, and Édouard Vuillard. He also received commissions for portraits, and documented the family of publisher Malcolm S. Forbes.
As a realist bumping up against the trend towards abstraction, Koch became an advocate for placing representational art in museum shows. He joined meetings with contemporaries such as Edward Hopper and Raphael Soyer, and recommended figural painters for the two-part show “The Continuing Tradition of Realism in American Art” at the Hirschl and Adler Gallery. His professional memberships included the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the National Academy of Design, the Royal Society of Arts, and the International Academy of Literature, Arts and Sciences.
Written by Zenobia Grant Wingate