Walt Kuhn (1877 - 1949)
Ogunquit Beach, 1924
Oil on canvas
12 x 16 1/8 inches
Signed at lower right: Walt Kuhn
Titled and dated on reverse: Ogunquit Beach / Aug. 1924
House of Heydenryk frame
Estate of the artist
[Salander-O’Reilly Gallery, New York, NY, 1982]
Private collection, New York, 2003
Private collection, Massachusetts
Walt Kuhn had significant effect of the history of American art as both a painter and as an organizer of the landmark 1913 Armory show in New York City, though he began his artistic career in a more commercial fashion as a cartoonist and magazine illustrator. Kuhn also had intense interest in theatrical productions, and was a successful producer of arts and entertainment, notably with the Penguin Club for artists in New York. Kuhn was a man of great vision and capacity, and he continued to paint serious pictures all while tending to his productions and shows.
Kuhn had a great, knowing eye for modern art, and he and fellow organizer Arthur B. Davies went to Europe in order to choose works to be included in the Armory show. Kuhn was also an art advisor for private collectors seeking to build modern art collections, with major clients including John Quinn, the Averell Harrimans and Lillie Bliss, all of whom significantly supported Kuhn as an artist, and whose collections are now dispersed throughout major museums.
Kuhn was always fascinated with the circus as a theme, and was able to convey the dignity and pathos of these often marginalized figures. Stylistically Kuhn was influenced by the planar qualities of Paul Cezanne, and his portraits have an unflinching, direct quality that is thoroughly modern.
Ogunquit Beach reveals Kuhn in a more playful mode. The artist and his family spent most summers in Ogunquit, Maine and purchased a house there in 1920. Kuhn apparently did not feel the need to paint typical seascapes and had a running joke with his dealer Marie Harriman: “Each summer…she would remind him that he had yet to paint the sea. Each summer he would promise her to paint that picture and each fall he would return to the city without it.” (Frank Getlein, Walt Kuhn (1967), n.p.) His beach is full of energy and style: a central pair of bathers stride across the composition, a fringed beach towel blowing behind them, while another seated woman flips her blond hair forward. The sky, sand and sea are all composed of jaunty lines that contribute to the breezy atmosphere.