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    John Graham (1886-1961)
    Woman at the Window, circa 1925
    Oil on canvas
    28-1/8 x 20 inches (71.4 x 50.8 cm)
    Signed lower left: Graham

    Dudensing Gallery, New York;
    Castellane Gallery, New York;
    Sotheby's, New York, May 24, 1972, lot 101;
    Demotte Publications, New York;
    [With]DC Moore Gallery, New York;
    Menconi & Schoelkopf Fine Art, New York;
    Acquired by the present owner from the above.

    "Beauty cannot be foreseen. Beauty is the beautiful expanded to the verge of ugliness" (J. Graham, System and Dialectics of Art, New York, 1937, p. 133).

    John D. Graham was a figure of immense influence in the early years of American Modernism, both as an artist and as a connoisseur. Though Graham himself was not an abstract painter, he certainly understood the significance of gesture and was a precursor to action painters of the future. Indeed, Graham is widely credited as a major influencer in the formation of Abstract Expressionism.

    An eccentric of aristocratic bearing, John Graham cloaked many of the details of his early life in a colorful mythology of his own creation. There is considerable contradictory information surrounding the artist's early years, but we know that he was born Ivan Dombrovski in Kiev. He served as a cavalry officer in the Czar's army during World War I, escaped to Poland, and later to France, when the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917. In 1920, Graham arrived in New York and began his formal career as an artist.

    In New York, Graham soon befriended Alexander Calder, Barnett Newman, and Adolph Gottlieb at the Art Students League. Together, with Arshile Gorky and Willem de Kooning, they constituted the most influential artists of the New York School. By 1942, Graham organized the "Exhibition of French and American Painters" at the McMillen Gallery, which showed, for the first time, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Henri Matisse alongside such unknowns as Jackson Pollock and de Kooning. It was also at this time that Graham, remaining a realist among the abstractionists, began painting neo-classical figurative works, which eventually evolved into his signature series.

    As his early career unfolded throughout the 1920s, Graham explored a variety of styles. His work in this decade ranges from energetic, expressive Post-Impressionist still lifes to restrained, monochromatic studies inspired by Picasso. Among his variations on the same theme, Woman at the Window is one of the earliest known examples from the artist's renowned and arguably most important series that he revisited throughout his life.

    In the present work, Woman at the Window, Graham employs a background of rich black tones to frame a relaxed and composed nude woman as she sits in stark contrast to her surroundings. There is a sense of boldness and frankness in her nakedness. The sitter's flat, unmodulated décolletage, arms, and face appear almost unfinished. Whether intentional or not, this effect serves to press the figure against the background, vivifying the interplay of dimensional space. These "unfinished" areas dually function to show his allegiance to drawing, whereby he probes the limits of form, its edge, where one color meets another.

    Graham maintained his ties to Europe with frequent travel to Paris. By the 1930s, he had gained notoriety in New York art circles as an emissary of European Modernism, particularly Surrealism. At the same time, exhibitions of his work at the Zborowski Gallery in Paris enhanced his credibility and helped advance his artistic career in the United States. In addition to painting, Graham established himself as an art connoisseur and collector. Perhaps most significantly, he helped Vanity Fair editor Frank Crowninshield build his famed collection of African art, purchasing many pieces for him in Paris.

    In 1937, Graham authored an influential Socratic dialogue entitled System and Dialectics in Art. Graham's book, which expressed his preoccupation with symbolism and outward manifestations of a primitive subconscious, attracted the attention and admiration of Pollock and other artists who would soon be associated with Abstract Expressionism. Although Graham himself had already moved away from abstraction, never to return to it, he was close to Pollock (whom he introduced to Lee Krasner), Stuart Davis, Gorky, David Smith, and de Kooning, among many others. Graham's influence as an opinion-maker and passionate advocate for avant-garde art peaked in 1942. In that year, he curated a noteworthy group show at the McMillen Gallery that placed works by Pollock (it was his first New York exhibition), de Kooning, and Krasner alongside works by Picasso and Matisse.

    By the early 1940s, Graham had turned primarily to portraiture and self-portraiture, developing an idiosyncratic and allusive late style more connected to Old Masters like Nicolas Poussin and Raphael than to the Abstract Expressionists he counted among his friends. Graham's late paintings are characterized by the crossed eyes and flat presentation of the figures and by symbolic surface embellishments drawn from astrology, alchemy, and the occult.

    Graham died in London in 1961 after several restless years of travel and ill health. Today, his work can be found in numerous public collections, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and the Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

    Condition Report*: The work is unlined. There appears to mild frame abrasion to the paint surface along the extreme edges.  There appear to be several small spots of inpainting in the background at left, above the figure's shoulder. There appears to be one small approximate ½ inch vertical line of inpainting in the background at right, above the figure's shoulder. Framed Dimensions 35.5 X 27.5 Inches
    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Some condition issues may not be noted in the condition report but are apparent in the provided photos which are considered part of the condition report. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    October, 2015
    28th Wednesday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 1
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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