by Kim Orcutt

Jacques Villon (French, 1875–1963), Young Girl, 1912. Oil on canvas, 57 9/16 × 45 in. (146.2 × 114.3 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art: The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950, 1950-134-190

Jacques Villon (French, 1875–1963), Young Girl, 1912. Oil on canvas, 57 9/16 × 45 in. (146.2 × 114.3 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art: The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950, 1950-134-190

On November 6, 1912, the American artist Walt Kuhn wrote to his wife that Arthur B. Davies had arrived in Paris. Davies had sent Kuhn on a quest to secure the latest European works for the Armory Show, starting with the Sonderbund exhibition in Cologne, Germany and continuing to The Hague, Amsterdam, Berlin, and Munich. Kuhn, in turn, urged Davies to come and see the avant-garde for himself.

Kuhn’s enthusiasm and admiration for the older artist leaps from the page. He described how they stayed up until all hours talking over their plans: “Davies and I work like two well oiled cogs – I make all the plans and the engagements and he simply gives the benefit of his tremendous knowledge.” [1] With the guidance of American expatriate artist Walter Pach, the two men plunged into several frantic days of visits – according to Kuhn, “we have practically lived in taxis.” [2] They met artists such as the Duchamp-Villon brothers, Constantin Brancusi, and Odilon Redon; major dealers, including Ambroise Vollard, Emile Druet, and Henry Kahnweiler; and collectors, most notably Leo and Gertrude Stein.

In the months before their trip, Davies had planned for the European contribution to the Armory Show to feature older, relatively conservative artists like Jean-Francois Raffaëlli, Lucien Simon, Charles Cottet, and Henri Le Sidaner, whom he probably remembered from his last trip to Paris eighteen years before. Their crash course in modern art in the fall of 1912 transformed the Armory Show into a showcase of radical new movements – according to Kuhn, “We have crowded an art education into these few weeks.” [3] The artist confided to his wife that they “will probably be jumped on for bringing over things which they will at first consider too wild…we will show NY something they never dreamed of.” [4]

[1] Walt Kuhn to Vera Kuhn, November 6, 1912, Walt Kuhn, Kuhn Family papers, and Armory Show records, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

[2] Walt Kuhn to Vera Kuhn, November 1912 (n.d.), Walt Kuhn, Kuhn Family papers, and Armory Show records, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

[3] Walt Kuhn letter to Vera Kuhn, November 1912 (n.d.). Walt Kuhn, Kuhn Family papers, and Armory Show records, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

[4] Walt Kuhn to Vera Kuhn, October 28, 1912. Walt Kuhn, Kuhn Family papers, and Armory Show records, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

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