John Koch (1909–1978) was born in Toledo, Ohio on August 18, 1909 and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He briefly studied charcoal drawing in his late teens and early twenties, which was his only real period of formal art study. He also spent a few summers in Provincetown, MA and attended lectures by Charles Hawthorne, who was teaching there at that time.
Koch went to Paris at age of nineteen and stayed for five years, studying independently and supporting himself by drawing commissioned portraits. In 1929, his work was exhibited at the Salon des Tuileries and Salon du Printemp. He returned to New York City five years later, where he lived out the rest of his life. In the year 1935, he married Dora Zaslavky and had his first New York exhibition at Valentine Dudensing Gallery. In 1939, he signed on with Charles W. Kraushaar Gallery, where his first show sold out. He exhibited there many times throughout his career. His work was also acquired then by the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. In 1940 he was in a group show at the Whitney Museum titled “Forty Under Forty,” and the 51st Annual Exhibition of the Art Institute of Chicago. From 1942–5 he joined the United Service Organizations (USO) in the art sketching and portrait division in veterans hospitals.
From 1944–46, John Koch taught figure painting at the Art Students League. He also became a featured artist of classical portraits at Portraits Inc, where he was able to earn a substantial income to support his art. In 1950, one of his works was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s, “American Painting Today,” and another work made the cover of Life magazine. His portrait of Princess Margaret was also featured on the cover of Life Magazine in 1955.
He received several awards from the National Academy of Design in 1952, 1959, 1962 and 1964. Around that same time, he also exhibited twice in group shows at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. In 1964, his work was chosen for the cover of Time Magazine.
John Koch became an elected member of the American Academy and the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1970. Five years later, he suffered a stroke and abandoned painting for the first time since his youth. That same year, his work was included in exhibitions at the DeCordova Museum and University of Houston Fine Arts Center. In 1977, his work appeared in exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska.