Kootz Gallery

Modern Art, New and Old World

One of the several people Harvey Probber turned to for acquiring art was Sam Kootz , who audaciously wrote “the future of painting lies in America” in a letter published in The New York Times on August 10th, 1941. He opened his gallery at 15 East 57th Street in 1945 to support American artists – William Baziotes, Romare Bearden, Byron Browne, Adolph Gottlieb, Hans Hofmann, Carl Holty, and Robert Motherwell among them.  Harvey Probber displayed their paintings in his showrooms and publicity, helping Kootz’s artists with the problem expressed by Esther Gottlieb “…of being seen”.

America was becoming the new center of the art world, Abstract Expressionism central to the shift. Kootz, dedicated to supporting American artists, increased the visibility of his artists by showing their works alongside those by European artists such as Georges Braque, Fernand Léger and Pablo Picasso. Like Probber, Kootz felt that trends in art and design were shifting to America from the old world and he was not afraid to make the comparison. 

Read more in an oral history interview with Sam Kootz in the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.

The present work by Byron Browne is one of the several works Probber acquired from Kootz over the years and included in his catalogs and publicity photos.

Woman with Two Birds by Byron Browne featured in a Probber catalog alongside his designs.
Image courtesy of the Harvey Probber Archive.

Works from the
Collection of Harvey Probber

Harvey Probber in his home. Image courtesy of the Harvey Probber Archive.

As an accomplished designer, innovator, and entrepreneur, Harvey Probber led a life guided by creative interests. From a young age, he explored the formal qualities of furnishings and their role in interior environments leading him to a successful career in design, manufacturing, and distribution. Probber developed an original, award-winning style that fits seamlessly into interiors across the country. One of his greatest contributions to the canon of design was the concept of “modular furniture”; an idea he coined that is so commonplace today that it’s hard to imagine it wasn’t always a part of the field’s vernacular. 

Probber catalog featuring his Modular Seating Series 70. Images courtesy of the Harvey Probber Archive.

Probber’s design ideology was undoubtedly modern, but also revered historical and cultural events that preceded and happened alongside his work. In tune with the arts, Probber befriended artists such as Adolph Gottlieb and gallerists, such as Sam Kootz and Bernard Davis. He amassed a collection of European and American modern art that was displayed alongside his furniture in showrooms and catalogs, often inspiring his own work. 

Woman and Two Birds by Byron Browne featured in the Probber catalog; The Forest by Helen Gerardia featured in a Probber catalog.
Image courtesy of the Harvey Probber Archive.

In 1962, Probber purchased Eastcliff, a Gothic Revival home originally designed in 1925 by Hobart Upjohn for J. Richard Ardrey, a prominent banker. Probber embarked upon the renovation and installation of art and design that transformed the stately home into a 16-room waterfront gallery for his collection of paintings and decorative objects. His furniture and that of his favorite designers provided comfort within the home’s interior composition.

Probber was well known in the world of design and beyond and it is hardly surprising that his social circle included musicians, stage and screen stars, artists, photographers, authors, and other accomplished people who regularly convened at Eastcliff.

A complete work of art and interior design, the Eastcliff residence captured Harvey Probber’s sophisticated and modern vision. It was the perfect backdrop for a life full of art and design. 

The present collection of works comes out of the Eastcliff residence and directly from the Probber family. The selection of more than 60 lots is comprised of Probber designs, works by those he represented, and artworks he collected. Altogether, the auction provides a snapshot of Probber’s holistic creative sensibilities and his far-reaching influence on the field of design. 

Wright would like to thank the Harvey Probber Archive for generously sharing period documentation, information and images.