It has been noted many times by critics and writers that John Koch's work, in his upper Manhattan apartment, was one of grown ups socializing in a well to do milieu. This appeared to be true and yet what has made the art of John Koch so perpetually interesting, are all the other nuances and asides mixed in to this environment.
John Koch was a figurative artist in modernist times. So it would naturally follow that his work would not be relative to a movement or group of the twentieth century but very much an "oeuvre" all its own. He tended to depict visitors and friends to his Manhattan apartment who engaged in conversation against the backdrop of a well appointed and tasteful home. His most controversial works are his depictions of couples in intimate situations. Koch was especially adept at painting nudes in interiors, which is a subject that could be analyzed, written about and speculated on, rather extensively. He was known to do portraits and it may have been these works which brought him his financial solidity.
Koch was especially adept at painting nudes in interiors, which is a subject that could be analyzed, written about and speculated on, rather extensively. Girl in Dining Room comes from what was perhaps the bread and butter part of his career. He was known to do portraits and it may have been these works which brought him his financial solidity. It would be easy to assume that many of his visitors, friends and patrons would have children and that they might commission Koch to do a portrait of their daughter. Or that John would be captivated by a young child and aks that she sit for him.
Girl in Dining Room is a captivating, fresh and individualistic portrait. Everything about it separates it from "portraits" as we have come to know them. They young girl has an unforgettable face which probably owes much to Koch interpreting something very special in her gaze, flesh tones and demeanor. It is interesting to wonder if the outfit was carefully orchestrated or a marvelous accident affording the artist much design and color plays with which to work. Koch has artistically limited his palette to buttery yellows and rich browns, taking down the green and red tones to be secondary to these two colors. Even the flesh tones and whites have a yellow base and this unusual hue unconsciously sets this painting apart in a clever manner. The porcelain cabinet behind the child is a Koch hallmark and these elegant objects do not reflect anything about the sitter and bear no relation to her. Often artists approach a portrait and are asked to include objects that give hint to the sitter's interests, family background and personality. Here we are conscious that these objects are probably Koch's and are more representative of his presence as an artist, creator, owner of the apartment and being in control of the pictorial plane. Yet there is the unusual outfit that competes in the picture for attention. An outfit that suggests the sitter is still young enough to be dressed by her parents, which suggests an almost country sort of naïveté and a disarming charm that also suggests a sheltered, indulged and privileged upbringing.
As much as a nude by John Koch would take some self confidence to hang in a home, this work does as well. In the tradition of painters who painted great portraits that command a room; this work is not a wallflower portrait. It is perhaps traditional in the realm of great portraits, as it can not be dismissed as another dull portrait but regarded as a real work of art that has attained higher and a more distinct level of artistic achievement.
Private Collection, Florida
Hammer Galleries, New York
Private Collection, Newtown, Connecticut