Robert Natkin was born in Depression-era Chicago in 1930. His father, a failed garment dealer, and his mother did not support Natkin in any of his endeavors as a small child, and especially not in art after he discovered the work of Paul Klee in a book that he happened upon in 1947. Despite his parents’ misgivings, Natkin enrolled in the Art Institute of Chicago in 1948. His desire to become a professional artist was solidified when he read Life magazine’s now famous 4-page spread on Jackson Pollock, although he did not personally like Pollock’s work.
In 1957, Natkin met and married fellow artist Judith Dolnick. Not having a place to exhibit their work, the couple renovated a storefront in a run-down stretch of the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago, creating what became the Wells Street Gallery. From these humble beginnings, Natkin’s Wells Street Gallery grew in prominence, exhibiting works by such artists as Aaron Siskind, John Chamberlain, and even Jackson Pollock, despite his aversion to his work.
Two years after opening the Wells Street Gallery, however, Natkin and Dolnick joined the group of Chicago artists that migrated to New York City. There, Natkin began teaching an
exhibiting his work frequently, earning the respect and support of such art critics as Sister Wendy Beckett and Peter Fuller.
As he grew older, however, Natkin removed himself from the New York art world, eventually moving to Connecticut in 1970, where he sold he work directly out of his studio. This move solidified Natkin’s reputation as being a particularly eccentric personality in the art world. He would regularly say, “You need to look at a painting with the tongue of your eye,” a saying he apparently performed once when he licked a Vermeer at the Frick Collection. Rumor has it he also temporarily replaced one of his own works for a Poussin at the Art Institute of Chicago, which he switched back once he realized that no one had noticed.
Robert Natkin continued to paint and sell his work from his home until his death in April 2010.
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