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John D. Graham (December 27, 1886 Kiev, Russia – June 27, 1961 London, England) was a Russian Empire-born American Modernist / figurative painter. He was born Ivan Gratianovitch Dombrowsky in Kiev, Russian Empire.

John D. Graham
Ivan Gratianovitch Dombrowsky.jpg
Ivan Gratianovitch Dombrowsky

1886 (1886)
Died1961 (1962)
NationalityUkrainian American
EducationArt Students League
Known forPainting
MovementModern art, Abstract art
Patron(s)Katherine S. Dreier

Military careerEdit

John D. Graham attended law school and served in the Circassian Regiment of the Russian army, earned the Saint George's Cross during World War I, and was imprisoned as a counterrevolutionary by the Bolsheviks after the execution of Czar Nicholas II and his family in 1918. He fled for a time to his mother's native Poland. In 1920, he emigrated with his second wife, Vera and their son, Nicholas to the United States. He began calling himself John in the US, and had his name officially changed to John Graham upon becoming a United States citizen in 1927.[1]

Artistic careerEdit

John D. Graham trained at the Art Students League of New York, where he briefly assisted Ashcan School painter John F. Sloan. In 1925 he relocated to Baltimore with his third wife, artist Elinor Gibson. Elinor gave birth to David Graham who died in Windermere, Florida after he married Patrica Thompson. She later gave numerous works of Graham to MOMA in New York. His remaining work are in her sisters Kathryn and Jean's portfolios. While in Baltimore, Graham joined a group called The Modernists and served as their secretary in addition to exhibiting in their gallery.[2] In addition to painting, Graham established himself as an art connoisseur and collector. He is associated with the New York School as an artist and impresario. He was also a close friend with the artist Wilhelmina Weber Furlong and her husband Thomas Furlong of the Art Students League.[3][4][5]

Graham and Elinor Gibson were divorced in 1934. Graham met American Constance Wellman in Paris in 1934; they married in New York City in 1936 and lived in Brooklyn Heights near Adolph Gottlieb, David Smith, and Dorothy Dehner. Graham worked for Hilla Rebay, helping her found the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, which was to become the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Constance and Graham suffered financially in the Depression, and moved to Mexico, where they lived on and off. Graham and Constance Wellman divorced on July 16, 1945.[6]

During the 1940s Graham and Marianne Schapira were married. Schapira was the mother of Ileana Sonnabend who was then married to Leo Castelli[7] Graham was a mentor figure to artists such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Arshile Gorky and also became a mentor to Ileana and Leo Castelli by introducing them to his artist friends in the New York art world.[8] In 1942 he curated a group show at the McMillan Gallery that exhibited work by Jackson Pollock (it was his first New York City exhibition), Willem de Kooning, Lee Krasner and Stuart Davis, alongside work by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, Pierre Bonnard and Amedeo Modigliani.

John D. Graham along with Stuart Davis and Hans Hofmann is considered as a mentor figure for the Abstract expressionist generation of American painters and sculptors. In particular Graham was a notable influence on Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, David Smith, Dorothy Dehner, and Mark Rothko. Graham claimed to have befriended Pablo Picasso and many other important European modernists in Paris and in Russia. He often entertained and lectured the younger Americans in New York City about modernist ideas, often being the bearer of radical new insights into art and creativity. He was the author of System and Dialectics of Art, (1937),[9] an enormously influential text during the 1940s, on art, modernism and the avant-garde.[10][11] He died in London in 1961.


  1. ^ Biographical information from A Finding Aid to the John Graham Papers, 1799-1988 by Megan McShea, in the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
  2. ^ "Graham Stages Original Show," The Baltimore News-American (February 1926). John D. Graham papers, Archives of American Art
  3. ^ The Biography of Wilhelmina Weber Furlong: The Treasured Collection of Golden Heart Farm by Clint B. Weber, ISBN 978-0-9851601-0-4
  4. ^ Smithsonian Archives of American Art Oral history interviews with Dorothy Dehner, 1965 Oct.-1966
  5. ^ "John Graham & Weber Furlong The Biography & Catalogue, August 7, 2012". Wilhelmina Weber Furlong Documentary Film & Biography. The Weber Furlong Press, New York.
  6. ^ John D. Graham papers, 1799-1988, bulk 1890-1961, Smithsonian Archives of American Art[1]
  7. ^ Smith, Roberta. "Ileana Sonnabend, Art World Figure, Dies at 92." New York Times, October 24, 2007.
  8. ^ Charles Darwent (October 27, 2007), Ileana Sonnabend - Queen of the SoHo art world The Independent.
  9. ^ [2] New York Times review by Grace Glueck, November 11, 1984, accessed online July 12, 2007
  10. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-07-12. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) accessed online July 12, 2007
  11. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-07-12. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) accessed online July 12, 2007

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