John D. Graham

John D. Graham (1886- 1961)

A mesmerizing Svengali-like figure, John Graham played a crucial role in redirecting the history of American Modern art. He encouraged and influenced Jackson Pollock, David Smith, Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, and others. Graham, Davis, Gorky and de Kooning were known as “The Four Musketeers.” When speaking of Jackson Pollock, de Kooning said, “Graham was very important as he discovered Pollock. It wasn’t anybody else. It was hard for other artists to see what Pollock was doing.”

Graham’s ideas on Jung’s theory of a collective unconscious, Picasso, mysticism and alchemy, as well as his experience as an art dealer and connoisseur made him the “hub” for the emerging New York School artists from 1920s onward.

John Graham, (1886–1961), was born as Ivan Gratianovich Dombrowski, in Kiev, Ukraine. An obfuscator and a charming operator, Graham was in process of constant reinvention. He understood the value of a self-created personality long before Andy Warhol. Graham alleged his parents were minor nobility. Trained as a lawyer, Graham briefly became a civil servant before attending the Nicolaev Cavalry Institute in Petrograd (Leningrad) in 1915. He may have been commissioned by the Russian cavalry, and served on the Ruminis front. Upon returning to St. Petersburg, he joined Czar Nicholas’ foot guard.

In November 1920, Graham fled from Russia to New York together, with his second wife Vera. He joined the Art Students League in New York City in 1923 and officially changed his name to John D. Graham. In 1929, Graham had a solo exhibition at the Philips Memorial Gallery. In 1936, he exhibited at the Whitney Museum. Graham’s book, System & Dialectics of Art, was first published in 1937. In 1942, he began painting neo-classical, figurative works, his signature women, and his self-portrait/soldier series. During this time, he organized the show Exhibition of French and American Painters at McMillen, Inc. in New York City where he exhibited unknowns like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning alongside Picasso, Braque, and Matisse.

Between the mid 1930s and the early 1950s Graham traveled frequently between the U.S. and Europe, sometimes painting a great deal and sometimes not at all. Married four times, and otherwise involved many other times, Graham was the father of at least four children. He died on June 27, 1961 in London, England and was buried in Baltimore alongside his third wife, Elinor Gibson.