John Franklin Koenig, prolific artist, dies at 83
Just two months before the opening of his career retrospective, painter John Franklin Koenig died Tuesday at a care facility in North Seattle...
Seattle Times art critic
Just two months before the opening of his career retrospective, painter John Franklin Koenig died Tuesday at a care facility in North Seattle. He was 83 and had been in poor health for a number of years. The exhibition "John Franklin Koenig: Northwest Master, Home and Away" will open March 25 at the Whatcom Museum of History and Art in Bellingham.
Mr. Koenig was a prolific artist: His paintings and multimedia artworks have appeared in more than 500 exhibitions worldwide, said his niece Claire Koenig. A Seattle native, Mr. Koenig lived in France for much of his adult life, and during the past 27 years divided his time between Seattle and Paris. Seattle Art Museum gave him a retrospective in 1970.
"He's important because he is rooted in the Northwest, and yet he had this other layer of travel and culture that was steeped in dance and literature and music," said Kathleen Moles, curator of the Bellingham exhibition. "I wanted to tell the story of his art as well as his life. Everything he did was informed by his practice as an artist. He made his living as an artist and lived in Europe because the patronage system was better there."
Mr. Koenig was born in Seattle in 1924, attended Lincoln High School in Wallingford and served in the 11th armored division in Europe during WWII. He was injured in the Battle of the Bulge. After the war, he earned a degree in Romance languages at the University of Washington before returning to France in 1948, where he studied at La Sorbonne. In Paris Mr. Koenig met and began a relationship with Jean Robert Arnaud. Together they started the art review Cimaise and opened the Gallerie Arnaud.
Working at first in collage, Mr. Koenig had his first exhibition at the Gallerie Arnaud in 1952. He eventually expanded to include painting, ceramic, glass and photography.
Acting as his own manager, Mr. Koenig traveled extensively, setting up exhibitions along the way. He showed throughout Europe as well as in Japan, North Africa, Iceland and Haiti.
"He was an outstanding human being, very loving and giving," said Claire Koenig. "He cared about other artists. He supported other artists, promoted them and gave them shows in France."
What Mr. Koenig gained in recognition abroad may not have served him well in the Northwest, however. He showed sporadically with many different galleries over the years, sometimes leaving acrimoniously. His work appeared at Zoë Dusanne's, at Gordon Woodside (Mr. Koenig eventually sued him), Foster/White, Greg Kucera and the Kurt Lidtke Gallery. (At Lidtke's, he was among others who lost artwork to the discredited dealer, now serving time for theft.) Mr. Koenig now is represented by Gallery IMA in Pioneer Square, where his work will be on display in April.
"John was used to a level of respect in France that no one was able to offer him in Seattle," said Kucera.
Artist Galen Garwood sums up part of Mr. Koenig's character in a catalog essay: "As his many friends will attest, John is tenacious in righting what he perceives as a wrong. He is stubborn and has the resolve that would weaken a pit bull's pluck."
In addition to niece Claire, Mr. Koenig is survived by nephews John, Howard and Jim Koenig of the Seattle area, and nieces Joanne Koenig of Kirkland and Kathy Ream of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
Sheila Farr: firstname.lastname@example.org
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