– Robert Koch, a highly respected worldwide authority on Art Nouveau and early Twentieth Century decorative arts, was known for his seminal books on the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany and Will Bradley. He died on Wednesday, August 13, in Stamford, at the age of 85.
Dr Koch received an AB degree in 1939 at Harvard University, a master’s degree in 1953 from New York University and a PhD in art history in 1957 from Yale University. He was a professor of art history at Southern Connecticut State College, New Haven, and also taught at Yale University as well as Queens College, New York.
His study of Louis Comfort Tiffany began with research for his doctorate, which he subsequently published in his first book, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Rebel in Glass in 1964. He curated the first exhibition on Tiffany at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts of the American Craftsmen’s Council, New York, in 1958, setting in motion a revival in the work of Tiffany who, for several decades, had been largely forgotten. His other books on the subject include Louis C. Tiffany Glass-Bronzes-Lamps, A Complete Collector’s Guide, 1971; Louis C. Tiffany’s Art Glass, 1977; and Louis C. Tiffany: The Collected Works of Robert Koch, 2001.
He also contributed an introduction to the reprinting in 1970 of Artistic America, Tiffany Glass, and Art Nouveau by S. Bing and authored an article in the catalog for the exhibition, Louis C. Tiffany Meisterwerke des amerikanischen Jugendstils, held in Munich in 1999.
He wrote prodigiously about the decorative arts and the graphic arts for such publications as Antique Talk, Antiques, The Antiques Journal, Art in America, The Art Quarterly, Arts in Virginia, The Gazette des Beaux Arts, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, The Magazine Antiques, MIT Press, Paul Haupt Berne, Record of the Art Museum Princeton University and Winterthur Portfolio.
His book on the foremost American graphic artist, Will H. Bradley American Artist in Print A Collector’s Guide, was published last year. He approached this book as he had his books on Tiffany, writing about the man and his work. In the foreword to the book, decorative arts historian Janet Zapata writes, “Robert Koch has brought this extraordinary man to life. The book is not a mere collection of facts or a scholarly analysis of his work. It is an integrated view of the man and his accomplishments.”
Dr Koch was a sought-after lecturer both in the United States and throughout Europe. When he was invited to lecture at The Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, Va., in 1997, Gary Baker, curator of glass and acting curator of decorative arts and historic houses, commented, “His passion for Tiffany continued long after he had written his books and, when he spoke at the museum, his lecture contained fresh material not in his books, flawlessly delivered without notes.” Baker also remarked, “We are fortunate he oversaw the final revision and compilation of his three Tiffany books into a single volume. In this final volume, he has left us a great legacy.”
Dr Koch’s expertise was relied on for questions of authenticity about Tiffany pieces or the work of other Art Nouveau designers. He was a consultant to many major museums and believed in leaving rare artifacts to museums where they would be enjoyed for generations to come.
Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, Anthony W. and LuLu C. Wang Curator of American Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, stated, “Bob Koch was a dedicated scholar who pioneered the study of Louis Comfort Tiffany. His important dissertation and subsequent published works provide the bedrock on which all subsequent scholarship rests. Bob also left a different kind of legacy in his generous donations to museums, most notably two exceptional Favrile glass vases and the extremely early leaded glass window of 1880 from Tiffany’s own Bella apartment to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.”
Dr Koch also donated important Tiffany drawings executed by the designer Jimmy Stewart to the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, Va.; a Tiffany window to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich.; Tiffany ecclesiastical windows to the Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, N.Y.; and jewelry, silverware and archival material by the Newark silvermaker Unger Bros to The Newark Museum in Newark, N.J.
In the mid 1960s he and his wife Gladys founded a business, Gladys Koch Antiques, specializing in the work of Art Nouveau and Art Deco designers, poster artists, prints and the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany. They traveled throughout the world, searching for rare and wonderful examples to offer their clientele, which included museums and discerning collectors. This business was dissolved in 2003.
Dr Koch was born on April 7, 1918, the son of Millard Fillmore Koch and Ella Heidelberg. He died of pneumonia at Stamford Hospital. Internment took place at Mt Pleasant Cemetery, Hawthorne, N.Y.
He is survived by his son, Mitchell Koch of Hastings on Hudson, N.Y.; his daughter, B’rak Asher, Ulster Park, N.Y.; grandchildren Autumn Joy Florencio-Wain, Tillson, N.Y.; Woody Koch-Wain, San Bernardino, Calif.; Noah and Sarah Koch, Hastings on Hudson, N.Y.; and great-granddaughter Alana Florencio-Wain.