Walt Kuhn was one of a generation of American artists who transformed his love of contemporary European art into a distinctly American style. Born William Kuhn in Brooklyn, New York, in 1877, the painter and illustrator received his first artistic training at a polytechnic institute in the city of his birth. At the age of twenty-two he moved to San Francisco, worked as a cartoonist, and began using "Walt" to sign his work. From 1901 to 1903, Kuhn studied in Europe, first at the Académie Colarossi in Paris and then at the Royal Academy in Munich. Although he settled in New York upon his return, Kuhn's European experience continued to inform his work throughout his career.
In New York, Kuhn initially worked again as a cartoonist for popular magazines and also became involved in the planning of the Armory Show. He traveled to Europe with Arthur B. Davies, the show's director, to select avant-garde art for display in the pivotal 1913 exhibition. From 1912 to 1920 he also advised John Quinn, a wealthy art patron, on purchases of French art and after 1930 served in a similar capacity for Marie Harriman, a collector and gallery owner. At this time, he was painting figure studies and still lifes that were influenced by both the cubist and expressionist idioms. Gradually, however, Kuhn developed a personal style in which he placed flattened, simplified, outlined forms, often rendered in brilliant color, against a dark background. Perhaps the best example of this mature style can be seen in The White Clown, one of a series of paintings done in the mid- to late 1920s depicting circus performers. Kuhn continued to paint throughout the 1930s and 1940s, until his death in New York in 1949.
[This is an excerpt from the interactive companion to the videodisc American Art from the National Gallery of Art.]
Adams, Philip Rhys. Walt Kuhn, Painter: His Life and Work. Columbus, OH, 1978.