Abraham Walkowitz Biography

Abraham Walkowitz




Painter Abraham Walkowitz was born in Tyumen, Siberia, on January 27, 1878. Born to Jewish parents, his father was a rabbi and cantor who died on a ministerial trip to China on behalf of Jewish soldiers drafted into the Russian Army when Walkowitz was around five years old. Following this, Walkowitz, his mother, and his three sisters embarked on an emigration route to the United States to avoid Walkowitz' inevitable conscription in the Czar's military; one sister died along the way. The family arrived in New York around 1890 and settled in the Jewish ghetto of New York City.

Walkowitz' interest in drawing led to an apprenticeship as a sign painter, and in his spare time he would sketch the daily lives of residents in his neighborhood. At the age of fourteen he began formal art lessons at the Cooper Union, the Educational Alliance, and the National Academy of Design; in this formal art environment he was able to try new mediums and eventually he gravitated toward watercolors, which would become his primary medium for the entirety of his career. In 1906, feeling constrained by the strictly traditional American art schools, he saved enough income to attend the Academie Julian in Paris, intrigued by the new and exciting Modern art movements of Europe.

While living in France Walkowitz became a part of the avant-garde and Abstract Expressionist movements. This would open the doors to working relationships with Alfred Stieglitz and the 291 Gallery, as well as Auguste Rodin, Max Weber, and Isadora Duncan - who would later become the subject of over 5,000 images throughout Walkowitz' career. He would become one of the first Americans to try to breach the gap between the leading experimental European art scene and that of the staid, conservative American art scene. Often met with derision, Walkowitz nevertheless helped put together the revolutionary 1913 Armory Show in New York, and exhibited there as well. In 1915 he helped found the People's Art Guild in New York City, an artists' cooperative whose aim was to bring contemporary art into the immigrant ghettos and tenements. Walkowitz’ art was greatly influenced by the many creative outputs of visual, performance, and literary luminaries of the time, especially those who challenged the status quo>

In 1945 he published “A Demonstration of Objective, Abstract, and Non-Objective Art,” (Halderman-Julius, Girard, KS), which refers to the interconnected nature of the arts. He was especially inpired by the writing of Walt Whitman, the kinetic nature of Wassily Kandinky's work, and the revolutionary dance style of Duncan. Long after her death in 1927, Duncan remained an inspiration to Walkowitz who created thousands of images of her techniques; these drawings would later be considered one of the most in-depth catalogues of Duncan's style and evolution, as photographs of her were relatively rare.

By the late 1940s Walkowitz, who continued to fly under the radar as an artist but was still actively working and exhibiting, began to lose his eyesight. He retired from art entirely by 1950 and in 1963 he was honored by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Walkowitz died in 1965 in New York City.