William C. Seitz (1914-1974) was an art historian and scholar, painter, educator, and museum curator who worked primarily in New York and Virginia. He completed the first dissertation on Abstract Expressionism while a student at Princeton University in 1955.
Born in 1914 in Buffalo, New York, Seitz studied at the Albright Art School at the University of Buffalo and the Art Institute of Buffalo. Seitz met artist Irma J. Siegelman, whom he married in 1938. Due to the Depression, he left school and worked with the Federal Arts Project in New York City in the 1930s and worked as an aircraft fuel cell deigner for the Hewitt Rubber Company during World War II. Returning to the University of Buffalo after the war, Seitz completed his undergraduate degree and remained by accepting a teaching job.
Although he saw success as a painter and exhibited in one-man shows, Seitz focused his career in academia and enrolled at Princeton University for a graduate degree in Art History. Princeton faculty held divided views on Seitz's desire to write a dissertation on the Abstract Expressionist movement and debated the subject for over a year. Seitz's dissertation topic was eventually approved and in addition to writing the first dissertation on Abstract Expressionism, Seitz received the first PhD in Modern Art from Princeton. Seitz remained at Princeton as an assistant professor and advised students such as Frank Stella.
In 1960, he accepted a job as a curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. At MOMA, Seitz curated The Art of Assemblage (1961), The Responsive Eye (1965), and an exhibition on Monet (1960). Other MOMA exhibitions focused on artists Mark Tobey, Arshile Gorky, and Hans Hofmann. Additionally, he served as director of the Rose Art Museum of Brandeis University from 1965-1970. During that time, Seitz organized the United States exhibition at the Ninth Biennial in Sao Paulo (1967) and the Seventh Biennial of Canadian Painting (1968). In 1971, Seitz returned to teaching at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia and was the Visiting Kress Professor at the National Gallery of Art from 1972-1973.
In addition to his successes in painting, education, and the curatorial field, Seitz was an accomplished writer. He published many articles, essays, and books on art and artists including Art in the Age of Aquarius, on which he worked until his death.
William C. Seitz died of cancer in 1974.