Although he was born in Toledo, Ohio, and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan, it was in New York City that John Koch found fame. He gained renown for his portraits and realistic figure paintings at a time when abstraction was the dominant style in New York. His obvious skill is more surprising for the understanding that his only formal training in art was a charcoal drawing class he took as a teenager; he moved to Paris when he was nineteen and copied works at the Louvre for five years, which served as his art school. After only a year in Paris, he was exhibiting at annual Salons and receiving Honorable Mention awards. On his return from Europe he settled in New York City, where he lived for the rest of his life, enjoying a reputation as one of the most successful portrait painters of his era. He and his wife, Dora, a musician and teacher, were known for their elegant social gatherings where artists, musicians, and writers mingled.