Kuhn, Walt, 1877-1949

Alternative names

Hide Profile

Walt Kuhn (1877-1949) was a watercolorist, lithographer, and etcher from New York, N.Y.

Kuhn was a central figure in the organization of the Armory Show, and artistic consultant to the Union Pacific Railroad.

From the description of Walt Kuhn, Kuhn family papers, and Armory Show records, 1859-1978, bulk 1900-1949. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 82042078

Painter; New York, N.Y.

Organizer of the 1913 Armory Show. Adele Weibel was a staff member of the Detroit Institute of Arts.

From the description of Letter to Adele Weibel, 1938 Mar. 14. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 122577249

Walt Kuhn was an artist, teacher, advisor to art collectors, organizer, and promoter of modern art. He played a key role in the art scene of New York City in the early 20th century, and was among the small group that organized the infamous Armory Show of 1913, officially known as the International Exhibition of Modern Art, held at the 69th Regiment Armory building in New York City. After the Armory Show, Kuhn went on to a distinguished career as a painter. He was best known for his sober oil portraits of show people, clowns, acrobats, and circus performers, but was equally prolific in landscapes, still lifes, and figure and genre drawings.

Walt Kuhn was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1877. After a brief career as a bicycle shop owner in downtown Brooklyn, Kuhn traveled West in 1899 to San Francisco, CA and earned his living as a cartoonist for newspapers such as Wasp . After two years in California, he moved back East and then on to Europe to pursue further art training. He briefly attended the Académie Colarossi studio in Paris, but quickly moved to Munich where he joined the class of Heinrich von Zügel in the Royal Academy.

Kuhn returned to New York City in 1904 and took up an active role in the art scene there, participating in the Salmagundi Club and the Kit Kat Club, teaching at the New York School of Art, and cartooning for Life, Judge, Puck, and other publications. In 1910, he participated in an exhibition of Independent Artists on 35th St. with Robert Henri and met artist Arthur B. Davies.

In 1911, when the National Academy of Design opened their annual exhibition, Kuhn, Henry Fitch Taylor, Elmer MacRae, and Jerome Myers were exhibiting at Clara Potter Davidge's Madison Gallery. To these four young artists, the Academy exhibition was typically lackluster, and the attention it received was unwarranted. Sensing that they were not alone in their attitude, they decided to organize. They invited a dozen other artists to join them, thus forming the Association of American Painters and Sculptors (AAPS). The group elected Kuhn Secretary and Arthur B. Davies President, and with the help of attorney and art collector John Quinn, they incorporated and began raising funds for an independent exhibition the following year.

In September of 1912, at Davies' suggestion, Kuhn traveled to Cologne, Germany to view the Sonderbund Internationale Kunst-Austellung. There he saw presented, in overwhelming volume, the work of his European contemporaries and their modern antecedents, the post-impressionists. He immediately began selecting and securing artwork for the upcoming AAPS exhibition. Kuhn traveled through Germany, Holland, France, and England, visiting private collectors, dealers, and artists. In Paris, Kuhn was joined by Davies and American artist and art agent Walter Pach. Kuhn and Davies sailed for New York in November, leaving the details of European arrangements to Pach.

The resulting Armory Show exhibition opened in New York in February 1913, and a selection of the foreign works traveled to Chicago and Boston in March and April. It included approximately 1300 American and European works of art, arranged in the exhibition space to advance the notion that the roots of modernism could be seen in the works of the old masters, from which the dramatically new art of living artists had evolved. Savvy and sensational publicity, combined with strategic word-of-mouth, resulted in attendance figures over 200,000 and over $44 thousand in sales. The Armory Show had demonstrated that modern art had a place in the public taste, that there was a market for it and legitimate critical support as well.

During the first World War, Kuhn stayed in NY and was active in the Kit Kat Club, an artists' club founded in 1881, which provided its members with collective studio space, live models, exhibitions, and an annual costume ball. In 1917, Kuhn founded another group called the Penguin Club, which had similar objectives to the Kit Kat Club, but with Kuhn himself as the gatekeeper. In addition to exhibitions and costume balls, the Penguin Club held summer outings and stag dinners, and maintained collective studio and exhibition space on East 15th Street in Manhattan. Its members included Americans and European artists displaced by the war in Europe. In the 1920s, Kuhn expanded a few sketches he had written for Penguin Balls into full-blown vaudeville productions, some of which were incorporated into larger musical revues such as The Merry Go Round and The 49ers and traveled around the country. Kuhn's theater work continued until 1928, and his fascination with show business continued to influence him throughout his life.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Kuhn gradually achieved recognition for his artwork, with sales to private collectors and dealers including Edith Halpert, Merritt Cutler, Lillie Bliss, John Quinn, and Marie Harriman. Kuhn also promoted other young painters whose work he liked, including Otis Oldfield, Lily Emmet Cushing, John Laurent, Frank di Gioia, and the self-taught Vermont artist Patsy Santo. Sometimes artists would contact him by mail, asking for lessons or advice. His lengthy letters to students offer coaching in technique and subject matter, as well as in the overall problem of success in art.

In 1929, Kuhn moved into the 18th St. studio that he would keep until the end of his life. He kept a rack of costumes in the studio, mostly made by Vera Kuhn, and his models, many of them stage and circus performers, would come and sit for Kuhn's portraits. The same year his painting The White Clown was exhibited at the newly established Museum of Modern Art in New York, bringing intense publicity and sales interest. Around this time, Kuhn began to receive the support of collector Duncan Phillips and curator Juliana Force of the Whitney Museum of American Art, both of whom made purchases and consistently exhibited his work.

Marie Norton Whitney Harriman, second wife of railroad magnate and diplomat W. Averell Harriman, shared a professional liaison with Kuhn that would take many forms and last until his death. Soon after the success of The White Clown, Kuhn established a relationship with the Marie Harriman Gallery, where he participated in group and solo shows during the height of his career. Kuhn also traveled with the Harrimans to Europe in 1931, where the three visited important private collections and acquired many valuable modern paintings for the Harrimans. Their collection, so heavily influenced by Kuhn's ideas about art, would eventually go to the National Gallery of Art.

Kuhn was an artist who understood the art business and never shied away from it. For Kuhn, promoting the ideas and practitioners of a certain brand of modernism was an expression of both aesthetic ideology and pragmatic self-interest. His contribution to the public discourse on modernism situated his own work at the heart of art history and the marketplace. Regardless of his motivations, he was indisputably a key player at a pivotal time in American art, when academic art was riotoulsy overturned to make way for modernism. His paintings are now held in major museum collections around the country, where most of them arrived with bequests from the collectors Kuhn had cultivated so carefully in his lifetime.

Sources consulted for this biography include The Story of the Armory Show (1988) by Milton W. Brown, Walt Kuhn, Painter: His Life and Work (1978) by Philip Rhys Adams, and "Walt Kuhn" by Frank Getlein, in the 1967 catalog of the Kennedy Galleries, Inc.

From the guide to the Walt Kuhn Family papers and Armory Show records, 1859-1978, bulk 1900-1949, (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Miscellaneous art exhibition catalog collection, 1813-1953, bulk 1915-1925 Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
referencedIn Kuhn, Walt, 1877-1949 : [miscellaneous ephemeral material]. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thomas J. Watson Library
creatorOf Dreier, Dorothea A., 1870-1923. Dorothea A. Dreier papers, 1887-1923. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf Kuhn, Walt, 1877-1949. Walt Kuhn : artist file : study photographs and reproductions of works of art with accompanying documentation 1930?-1990 [graphic] [compiled by staff of The Museum of Modern Art, New York]. Frick Art Reference Library of The Frick Collection
referencedIn Dorothea A. Dreier papers, 1881-1941, bulk 1887-1923 Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
referencedIn Kennedy Galleries. Kennedy Galleries miscellaneous records, 1864- [ca. 1980]. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Barn Gallery Associates (Ogunquit, Me.). Barn Gallery Associates selected records, 1966-1987. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn McBride, Henry, 1867-1962. Henry McBride papers, 1863-1962 (inclusive), 1901-1962 (bulk). Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Naumann, Francis M. Marius de Zayas Research Collection for How, When and Why Modern Art Came to New York, ca. 1910-1936. Whitney Museum of American Art, Library
creatorOf Seiberling, Frank, 1908-. Frank Seiberling research material on George Bellows, 1934-1962 (bulk 1934-1948). Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn John Quinn papers, 1901-1926 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
creatorOf Quinn, John, 1870-1924. John Quinn memorial collection in the New York Public Library, 1901-1925. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Matthias, Blanche, 1887-1983. Blanche Matthias papers, 1901-1983. Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Kuhn, Brenda, 1911-. Brenda Kuhn notes concerning Walt Kuhn, 1974-1985. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Ohio State University. Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. Walt Kuhn 1877-1949 biographical file. Ohio State University Libraries
creatorOf Lowell, Amy, 1874-1925. Papers, 1916-1920. Ohio State University Libraries
creatorOf Quinn, John, 1870-1924. John Quinn papers, 1901-1926. New York Public Library System, NYPL
creatorOf Kuhn, Walt, 1877-1949. Walt Kuhn, Kuhn family papers, and Armory Show records, 1859-1978, bulk 1900-1949. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf Spaeth, Eloise. Eloise and Otto Spaeth papers, 1937-1983. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Navas, Elizabeth S., 1885-1979. Elizabeth S. Navas papers, 1939-1963. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf Dreier, Dorothea A., 1870-1923. Dorothea A. Dreier papers, 1881-1941, bulk 1887-1923. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Madison Art Gallery. Walt Kuhn exhibition catalog, [ca. 1920]. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Lily Emmet Cushing papers, 1929-1972 Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
referencedIn Maynard Walker Gallery. Maynard Walker Gallery records, 1847-1973. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf Kuhn, Walt, 1877-1949. Artist file : miscellaneous uncataloged material. Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)
referencedIn Santo, Pasquale, 1893-1975. Patsy Santo papers, 1938-2006. Bennington Museum, Incorporated
referencedIn Pangb, Pangborn. Walt Kuhn [graphic]. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf Archives of American Art. Miscellaneous art exhibition catalog collection, 1813-1953. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Bouché, Louis, 1896-1969. Louis Bouché interview, 1963 Mar. 13. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Chester Beach papers, 1846-1999 Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
creatorOf Kuhn, Walt, 1877-1949. Letter to Adele Weibel, 1938 Mar. 14. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn M. de Zayas (Gallery : New York, N.Y.). M. de Zayas exhibition catalogs, 1919-1920. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf Kuhn, Walt, 1877-1949. Artist file. Brooklyn Museum Libraries & Archives
referencedIn Quinn, John, 1870-1924. John Quinn ledgers, 1909-1924. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf Kuhn, Walt, 1877-1949. Artist file. Brooklyn Museum Libraries & Archives
referencedIn Bouché, Louis, 1896-1969. Oral history interview with Louis Bouché, 1963 Mar. 13. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Spier, LaSalle. La Salle Spier papers, 1929-1939. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf Neumann, J. B. (Jsrael Ber). J. B. Neumann papers, 1915-1967. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf Walt Kuhn Family papers and Armory Show records, 1859-1978, bulk 1900-1949 Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
creatorOf Kraushaar Galleries. Kraushaar Galleries records, 1885-2006. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Navas, Elizabeth S., 1885-1979. Elizabeth S. Navas papers, 1939-1963. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf Spaeth, Eloise. Eloise Spaeth papers, 1937-1983. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf Hays, Helen Ireland. Helen Ireland Hays papers concerning Paul Bransom, 1903-1979. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf Kraushaar Galleries. Kraushaar Galleries records, 1901-1968, bulk 1926-1968. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Kuhn, Brenda, 1911-. Brenda Kuhn interview, 1966 Apr. 1 [sound recording]. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf Cushing, Lily Emmet, 1909-1969. Lily Emmet Cushing papers, 1929-1972. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf Howard, Loretta Hines. Loretta Hines Howard papers, 1926-1941. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf Blumenschein, Ernest Leonard, 1874-1960. Ernest Blumenschein papers, 1873-1964. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Whitney Museum of American Art. Whitney Museum of American Art artists' files and records, 1914-1966. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Montross Gallery. Montross Gallery exhibition catalogs, 1908-1926. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf Lincoln Ellsworth Papers. 1896 - 1974. Artwork
creatorOf Labaudt, Lucien, 1880-1943. Lucien and Marcelle Labaudt papers, 1896-1987. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf Kuhn, Walt, 1877-1949. Artist file. Brooklyn Museum Libraries & Archives
referencedIn Ernest Blumenschein papers, 1873-1964 Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
creatorOf MacRae, Elmer Livingston, 1875-1953. Elmer Livingston MacRae papers, 1899-1958, (bulk 1899-1916). Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Blanche Matthias papers, 1901-1983 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Kraushaar Galleries records, 1885-2006 Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
referencedIn Gaston, Godfrey O., 1928-. Godfrey O. Gaston correspondence, 1964-1991. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf Dreier, Dorothea A., 1870-1923. Dorothea A. Dreier papers, 1887-1923. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Henry McBride papers, 1863-1962 (inclusive), 1901-1962 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
creatorOf Teague, Virginia Vanderbilt,. Virginia Teague papers relating to the Armory Show, 1913-1952, bulk 1913-1917. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Beach, Chester, 1881-1956. Chester Beach papers, 1846-1999, bulk circa 1900-1999. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
creatorOf Laurent, Robert, 1890-1970. Robert Laurent papers, 1869-1973. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Graham, Donald S. Donald S. Graham papers concerning Walt Kuhn, 1955-1991. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn Ira and William Glackens papers, circa 1900-1990 Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
referencedIn Kuhn, Walt : Biographical file. Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center
Role Title Holding Repository
Direct Relationships
Relation Name
associatedWith Archives of American Art corporateBody
associatedWith Armory Show (1913 : New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Association of American Painters and Sculptors (New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Barn Gallery Associates (Ogunquit, Me.) corporateBody
associatedWith Beach, Chester, 1881-1956. person
associatedWith Blumenschein, Ernest person
associatedWith Blumenschein, Ernest Leonard, 1874-1960. person
associatedWith Bouché, Louis, 1896-1969. person
associatedWith Cushing, Lily Emmet, 1909-1969. person
associatedWith Davies, Arthur B. (Arthur Bowen), 1862-1928. person
associatedWith Dreier, Dorothea A., 1870-1923. person
associatedWith Gaston, Godfrey O., 1928- person
associatedWith Glackens, Ira person
associatedWith Graham, Donald S. person
associatedWith Hays, Helen Ireland. person
associatedWith Howard, Loretta Hines. person
associatedWith International Exhibition of Modern Art corporateBody
associatedWith Kennedy Galleries. corporateBody
associatedWith Kit Kat Club (New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Kit Kat Club (New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Kraushaar Galleries. corporateBody
associatedWith Kuhn, Brenda, 1911- person
associatedWith Kuhn, Vera, d. 1961. person
associatedWith Labaudt, Lucien, 1880-1943. person
associatedWith Laurent, Robert, 1890-1970. person
associatedWith Lowell, Amy, 1874-1925. person
associatedWith MacRae, Elmer Livingston, 1875-1953. person
associatedWith Madison Art Gallery. corporateBody
associatedWith Matthias, Blanche, 1887-1983. person
associatedWith Maynard Walker Gallery. corporateBody
associatedWith McBride, Henry, 1867-1962. person
associatedWith M. de Zayas (Gallery : New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Montross Gallery. corporateBody
associatedWith Museum of Modern Art (New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Naumann, Francis M. person
associatedWith Navas, Elizabeth S., 1885-1979. person
associatedWith Neumann, J. B. (Jsrael Ber) person
associatedWith Oldfield, Otis, 1890-1969. person
associatedWith Pach, Walter, 1883-1958. person
associatedWith Pangb, Pangborn. person
associatedWith Penguin Club (New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Penguin Club (New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Quinn, John, 1870-1924. person
associatedWith Rainford, Percy person
associatedWith Rainford, Percy photographer person
correspondedWith Santo, Pasquale, 1893-1975. person
associatedWith Seiberling, Frank, 1908- person
associatedWith Sheeler, Charles, 1883-1965. person
associatedWith Spaeth, Eloise. person
associatedWith Spier, LaSalle. person
associatedWith Teague, Virginia Vanderbilt, person
associatedWith Weibel, Adele. person
associatedWith Weston, Edward, 1886-1958 person
associatedWith Whitney Museum of American Art. corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
New York (State)--New York
United States
New York (State)--New York
Subject
Artists' models--Photographs
Art--Societies, etc
Art, Modern--20th century--Exhibitions
Painting, Modern--20th century
Watercolor painting, American
Art--American (?)--Reproductions
Art--Societies, etc.--New York (State)--New York
Art, American
New York school of art
Art schools--Photographs
Painters
Watercolorists--New York (State)--New York
Lithographers
Etchers
Watercolorists
Occupation
Function

Person

Birth 1877-10-27

Death 1949-07-13

Americans

English

Information

Permalink: http://n2t.net/ark:/99166/w6qz2cmc

Ark ID: w6qz2cmc

SNAC ID: 10195877