JOHN KOCH (1909–1978)
The Concert, 1954
Oil on canvas, 25 x 30 in.
Signed (at lower right): Koch
EX COLL.: the artist; to [Kraushaar Galleries, New York]; private collection, and by descent; private collection, Park City, Utah until 2022
There was no sharp delineation in Koch’s world between music and art. He was the painter; his wife, Dora, was the musician, but creativity is seamless, and music was vitally important to the painter. In 1968, Koch told an interviewer for an oral history at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art “I can’t live without music. Emotionally it’s perhaps almost more important than any other art form.”
In addition to his abilities as a painter of figures and still life, in The Concert Koch displays his technical mastery of the portrayal of different sources of light, and their effects—a central and recurrent concern of painters from Caravaggio to Vermeer to the Impressionists. On the right side of the canvas, as seen by the viewer, the audience sits absorbed in the magic of the musical performance and illuminated lit by what appears to be daylight while the figures on the viewer’s left are seated in a connected but interior room, lit by artificial light made more dramatic by Koch’s emphasis on the shadows cast by a lamp and a picture light.
The Concert offers an early glimpse into the world that New York Times art critic Ken Johnson described when he wrote that the Kochs created and John Koch painted, at the appropriately named El Dorado, “an intellectual paradise ... a kind of public place, a utopian theater of cultivated civility” (“Art Review: One Life in the Light, Another in the Shadows,” New York Times, December 21, 2001, Section E, p. 45.) This canvas is a harbinger of a group of such scenes that are John Koch’s legacy to the frenetic world of the 21st century.