Walt Francis KuhnAmerican, 1877-1949
A painter and major organizer of the Armory Show, Walt Kuhn is perhaps best known for his circus figure-clown depictions. They were unique in that he treated his subjects as human beings conditioned to specialized jobs. He also painted still lifes and some landscapes. He was inspired and influenced by many artists, most notably Paul Cezanne, and like Cezanne, he destroyed many of his canvases, saving only about a dozen paintings a year.
He was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1877 (some older sources quote 1880 as his year of birth) with the name William, but in 1900 first used the name "Walt" when illustrating magazines in San Francisco. He studied at the Royal Academy in Munich from 1901 to 1903, and returned to New York where he worked as a cartoonist and magazine illustrator.
He was associated with "The Eight", New York modernist painters, and with Arthur B. Davies, was a the key figure in forming the American Association of painters and Sculptors that organized the Armory Show of 1913 that introduced modernist European art to America. Kuhn was executive secretary of the Association and traveled abroad to select entries for the Armory Show.
In 1941, he was granted a press pass to all of the Madison Square Garden performances of the Ringling Brothers Circus, which reinforced his focus on that subject matter.
He also had a major interest in the American West, and between 1918 and 1920 did 29 paintings in a series he called Imaginary History of the West, whose source material was primarily books. In 1936 and 1937, he was commissioned by the Union Pacific Railroad to design the interior of two club cars, The Frontier Shack and Little Nuggett.
Beaux Arts Gallery (SF), 1928; SFAA, 1930. In: Brooklyn Museum; Cincinnati Museum; Detroit Inst. of Arts; LACMA; MM; AIC; Boston Museum; MOMA; Whitney Museum (NYC).