Morning
by Walt Kuhn
3.2-Kuhn_Morning-NMA-46.13
Walt Kuhn (American, 1877–1949), Morning, 1912. Oil on canvas, 33 × 40 in. (83.8 × 101.6 cm). Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida, Gift of R. H. Norton, (46.13)

Morning in Nova Scotia

He had painted Morning at Sunday Point, Yarmouth, Nova Scotia in the summer of 1912. It depicts the cow pasture on the farm of Mr. and Mrs. James H. Allen and Miss Amy Allen at Sunday Point. The painting shows the influence of post-Impressionism and Fauvism in its brushwork and palette, but the organization of three-dimensional space makes it a cautious foray into modernism.

Exhibiting at the Armory Show

Kuhn lent two of his oil paintings—Morning and Girl with Red Cap—and three drawings to the Armory Show. [1] His work received scant attention in the press, but the notices that appeared were positive. The critic for the New York Evening Post wrote that an “unspoiled enjoyment of life is in evidence in Walt Kuhn’s pictures. They are not carried far, but have an effect of light and life.” [2] The reviewer for the New York American mentioned Morning specifically: “Among landscapes which vary the routine of naturalism by the quality of invention displayed in their color schemes and decorative compositions  [is] … a strikingly interesting morning landscape by Walter Kuhn.” [3]

Sold!

Morning was sold from the Armory Show for $600 to John Quinn, the New York based attorney and art collector who also played a key role in organizing the exhibition.

[1] The paintings were Morning (Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida) and Girl with Red Cap (destroyed). The drawings were Colored Drawing, Drawing, and a pastel titled Nude—the current locations of all three are unknown.

[2] “International Art,” New York Evening Post, February 22, 1913, 5.

[3] “The American Section Still Reflects the Naturalistic Motive,” New York American, March 10, 1913, 7.

Walt Kuhn (1877-1949)

Kuhn was raised in Brooklyn and received little formal artistic training before relocating to San Francisco about 1899 to work as a cartoonist for the weekly The Wasp. From 1901 to 1903 he studied painting in Paris and Munich. Back in New York in 1903 he worked again as a cartoonist and in 1908 he joined the faculty of the New York School of Art. His oil paintings progressed from the dark tonalism of the Munich School to impressionist landscapes; by 1909 he knew the art of Paul Cézanne and began to experiment with Post-Impressionism.

In New York Kuhn supported progressive artistic causes and helped organize several modern art exhibitions. He was a member of the Pastellists and the Madison Gallery group, and in 1911 became a founding member and secretary of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors. [1] As a principal organizer of the Armory Show, Kuhn traveled to Germany, France, and England in 1912 to select works for the exhibition. [2] He visited the Sonderbund exhibition in Cologne, Germany, and with Arthur B. Davies he visited the Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition at the Grafton Galleries in London. Both exhibitions served as important models for the Armory Show. Kuhn was exhilarated by the new painting he saw with Davies and Walter Pach in Paris, in particular work by Cézanne, Henri Matisse, and André Derain. He wrote to his wife: “Instead of being in any way depressed by seeing such great stuff, I feel great, and have mental material to last several years.” [3]

After the Armory Show, Kuhn continued to explore Fauvism and post-Impressionism in his work. But he never fully understood or appreciated non-representational art and avant-garde styles, and he remained committed to expressive realism. His account of the planning of the exhibition, The Story of the Armory Show, published in 1938, was the primary source of information about the exhibition for many decades, and was a key source for Milton Brown’s classic book of the same title.

[1] The Pastellists was an organization of artists that formed in New York in 1910 for the purpose of exhibiting artwork produced in the medium of pastel. The group helped organize four exhibitions in New York between 1910 and 1914 before disbanding in 1915. Other members included Leon Dabo, Elmer Livingston MacRae, Jerome Myers, Everett Shinn, and Juliet Thompson. The Madison Gallery group included Kuhn, Myers, MacRae, and Henry Fitch Taylor, who met regularly at the Madison Gallery to discuss how to promote the work of young artists and what they identified as progressive art.

[2] For Kuhn’s role in planning the Armory Show, see Gail Stavitsky, “Walt Kuhn: Armory Showman” in The Armory Show at 100 (New York: New-York Historical Society, 2013).

[3] Walt Kuhn to Vera Kuhn, November 11, 1912, Walt Kuhn Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, microfilm reel D240, frame 450-451.

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