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Abraham Walkowitz papers, 1904-1969

Biographical Note

Abraham Walkowitz (1878-1965) was a painter in Brooklyn, New York. Walkowitz was born in Tumen in Siberian Russia, the son of Jacob and Rita Schulman Walkowitz. Following the death of his father, a lay rabbi and cantor, in the late 1880s, Walkowitz immigrated to the United States with his mother and siblings and settled in the Lower East Side of New York City.
Walkowitz began his study of art at the Educational Alliance, at Cooper Union, and at the National Academy of Design. In early adulthood he worked as a sign painter and taught at the Educational Alliance from 1900 to 1906. He managed to save enough for passage to Paris where he continued his studies at the Académie Julian under Academic painter Jean-Paul Laurens. During this time, Walkowitz met Max Weber who introduced him to Matisse, Picasso, and Gertrude and Leo Stein. They exerted a considerable influence on Walkowitz's artistic development toward abstraction. Weber also introduced him to Isadora Duncan, whose style of improvisational dance inspired Walkowitz to create over 5,000 drawings and watercolors of her dancing form over the next four decades.
Walkowitz returned to New York in 1907 and laid claim to being the first to exhibit truly Modernist paintings in the United States with his exhibition at the Haas Gallery in 1908. After 1909, he became an intimate of Alfred Stieglitz's 291 Gallery where he became a regular exhibitor along with Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, and John Marin, among others. Walkowitz's work appeared in landmark avant-garde exhibitions including the 1913 Armory Show, the Forum Exhibition of 1916, the People's Art Guild showings of contemporary art from 1915-1917, and the inaugural show of the Société Anonyme in 1920.
When interest in the Modernist movement diminished during the 1930s, Walkowitz's career also diminished, but he continued as an avid member and officer in the Society of Independent Artists. In the mid-1940s, he explored the varieties of the modernist vision in the form of an exhibition of 100 portraits of Walkowitz by 100 artist colleagues. The result was widely discussed and was featured in Life magazine in 1944. In 1945, Walkowitz travelled to Kansas to reunite with his colleague, E. Haldeman-Julius, to publish in a series of books concerning Walkowitz's art work. He also executed a series of drawings of the barns and strip mines in the area. But by 1946, glaucoma had begun to impair Walkowitz's vision, leading to his eventual blindness. Also in the mid-1940s, Walkowitz lost the contents of his studio to fire.
In 1963, Walkowitz received the Marjory Peabody Award of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. His work is represented in the collections of the Newark Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Abraham Walkowitz died on January 26, 1965 in Brooklyn, New York.