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Robert Torchia, “Walt Kuhn/Green Apples and Scoop/1939,” American Paintings, 1900–1945, NGA Online Editions, https://purl.org/nga/collection/artobject/53132 (accessed September 23, 2019).

 

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Overview

Although Walt Kuhn is most famous for his many representations of circus workers, still lifes were an important part of his oeuvre. Green Apples and Scoop is one of two major still-life compositions painted during the summer of 1939 in Ogunquit, Maine. Apples appear in abundance in Kuhn’s still lifes, and he once commented that “they reminded him of backsides,” a statement that his biographer Philip Rhys Adams dismissed as “a bawdy brush-off of a difficult question.” Be that as it may, Kuhn took his apples seriously: he remarked that an apple still life he painted in 1944 was the result of “at least four years of investigating apples in general.” When Green Apples and Scoop was exhibited at Durand-Ruel Galleries in 1946, a critic deemed it an example of “solid and magnificent painting” that was “built from simple grandeur and its color fairly sings with joy.” Among the artist’s most successful still lifes, William H. Gerdts and Russell Burke selected it to represent Kuhn’s contribution to the genre in their classic study American Still-Life Painting (1971).

Entry

Walt Kuhn painted two major still-life compositions during the summer of 1939 when he was in Ogunquit, Maine: Still Life with Apples [fig. 1] and Green Apples and Scoop. The Gallery’s painting consists of a basket of apples in the upper left portion of the horizontal composition, a large wooden scoop that crosses it on a slightly diagonal axis, and a loose group of 18 apples arranged in the middle and at the lower right; the head of the scoop rests on a blue cloth.

Apples appear in abundance in Kuhn’s still lifes, and he once commented that “they reminded him of backsides,” a statement that Philip Rhys Adams dismissed as “a bawdy brush-off of a difficult question.”[1] According to Adams, Kuhn often had his wife or daughter arrange his fruit pieces “so that the unintended grouping could surprise him with a new idea. Then he might make a few adjustments, while avoiding the danger of unconsciously repeating himself.”[2] In 1948 the artist commented that his Red Apples (1944, location unknown) was the result of “at least four years of investigating apples in general,”[3] so the Gallery’s painting represents an earlier phase of an intensive, lengthy process.

Reflecting Kuhn’s lofty ambitions as a still-life painter, the subject, emphasis on plastic form, organic tonality, and monumental quality of Green Apples and Scoop clearly reflect the influence of the great French precursor of cubism Paul Cézanne (French, 1839 - 1906). Kuhn strove to imbue his fruit still lifes with “dynamism,” or expressive power, and described his Apples and Pineapple (1933, formerly W. Averell Harriman Collection) as “a plate of bombs and a hand grenade!”[4] When Green Apples and Scoop was exhibited at Durand-Ruel Galleries in 1946, a critic deemed it an example of “solid and magnificent painting” that was “built from simple grandeur and its color fairly sings with joy.”[5] Another critic noted how Kuhn’s iconic circus clowns achieved emotional impact through human interest and dramatic overtones, while in the still lifes “structural organization and the bold handling of pigment are so electrifying in their effect that no other dramatic associations are needed.”[6] William H. Gerdts and Russell Burke also elevated the status of Kuhn’s still lifes when they selected the Gallery’s painting to represent Kuhn’s contribution to the genre in their classic study American Still-Life Painting (1971): “The emphasis on plastic form is very evident in Kuhn’s famous series of clowns and circus performers, but is more vivid still in his brilliant still lifes of green apples.”[7]

Robert Torchia

August 17, 2018

Inscription

lower right: Walt Kuhn / 1939

Provenance

(Durand-Ruel Gallery, New York); purchased 12 December 1946 by W. Averell [1891-1986] and Marie N. [1903-1970] Harriman, New York; W. Averell Harriman Foundation, New York; gift 1972 to NGA.

Exhibition History
1941
Probably Walt Kuhn, Grace Horne Galleries, Boston, 1941.[1]
1946
Paintings by Walt Kuhn, Durand-Ruel Galleries, New York, 1946, no. 1.
1956
Pictures Collected by Yale Alumni, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, 1956, no. 162, repro.
1958
Walt Kuhn, Albany Institute of History and Art, 1958, no. 13.
1960
Walt Kuhn 1877-1949: A Memorial Exhibition, Cincinnati Art Museum, 1960, no. 79, color repro.
1961
Exhibition of the Marie and Averell Harriman Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1961, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
1966
Painter of Vision: A Retrospective Exhibition of Oils, Watercolors and Drawings by Walt Kuhn, 1877-1949, The University of Arizona Art Gallery, Tucson, 1966: no. 89, repro.
1978
Walt Kuhn: A Classic Revival, Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, Fort Worth; Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha; Wichita Art Museum; Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 1978-1979, no. 40.
1981
Extended loan for use by Ambassador Maxwell M. Rabb, U.S. Embassy residence, Rome, Italy, 1981-1989.
1989
Extended loan for use by Ambassador Peter F. Secchia, U.S. Embassy residence, Rome, Italy, 1989-1990.
1991
Extended loan for use by Ambassador Robert H. Pelletreau, U.S. Embassy residence, Cairo, Egypt, 1991-1993.
1993
Extended loan for use by Ambassador Pamela Harriman, U.S. Embassy residence, Paris, France, 1993-1997.
1997
Extended loan for use by Secretary William M. Daley, U.S. Department of Commerce, Washington, D.C., 1997-2000.
2000
Extended loan for use by Secretary Norman Y. Mineta, U.S. Department of of Commerce, Washington, D.C., 2000-2001.
2001
Extended loan for use by Mrs. Richard Cheney, Old Executive Office Building, Washington, D.C., 2001-2009.
Exhibition History Notes

[1] A painting titled Green Apples with Scoop is mentioned in a review of the exhibition.

Technical Summary

The finely woven, medium-weight fabric support has been lined with wax and remounted on a nonoriginal stretcher. The right tacking margin was inscribed “Apple and Scoop,” followed by some illegible writing. The artist applied paint in thick layers of impasto over a commercially prepared off-white ground. He followed a strongly delineated outline executed with a fine brush in black paint. Visible pentimenti indicate changes in the drawing and modeling of the scoop.[1] The painting is in excellent condition. The surface was coated with a synthetic resin varnish.

Bibliography
1971
Gerdts, William H., and Russell Burke. American Still-Life Painting. New York, 1971: 219, fig. 16-7.
1978
Adams, Philip Rhys. Walt Kuhn, Painter: His Life and Work. Columbus, OH, 1978: 187-188, 267, no. 387, color repro.
1980
American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1980: 190, repro.
1992
American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 223, repro.
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