Walt Kuhn

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Walt Kuhn
Clown's Head
Pen and black ink and watercolor on paper; verso: black ink.
maximum dimensions: 4 5/16 x 4 1/8 inches (110 x 105 mm)
The Joseph F. McCrindle Collection.

Inscribed in pen and black ink, "WK 1940".

P. Weiss, from whom purchased in 1980 by Joseph F. McCrindle, New York (McCrindle collection no. A0557).

Kuhn spent the summer of 1940 on Lake Buel in the Berkshires near Great Barrington, Massachusetts, during which time he concentrated on a number of small watercolors and drawings of circus subjects in preparation for a solo exhibition to be held at the Marie Harriman Gallery in December of 1941, in which "Clown's Head" was included. (Adams 1978, p. 191) The show received widespread critical acclaim, with Emily Genauer, writing for the New York World-Telegram, declaring, "The gayest, sprightliest, wittiest show in town is that of drawings and watercolors by Walt Kuhn at the Marie Harriman Gallery. They're drawn from the well-known painter's experiences with circus, burlesque and other show people over a period of almost 20 years. Most of these are line drawings, or drawings touched with color.They have the quality of Gavarni, the lustiness of Rowlandson, the heart of Daumier. They're beautifully composed as well. Altogether, these are warm, human, authentic, unpretentious but thoroughly satisfying things." (Adams 1978, p. 197) Kuhn's images of the circus stand among his most iconic, and his fascination with theatrical subjects took root early in his career. In 1916, Kuhn hired his first models to pose in his studio for his painting "The Tragic Comedians," ca. 1916 (Collection of the Hirschhorn Museum), in which a pair of life-size figures are adorned in fanciful stage costumes. (Perlman 1989, p. 12). While Kuhn collected and designed circus costumes to be worn by models in his studio, he also regularly attended circus performances, often venturing backstage to create sketches and portraits of the performers. In "Clown's Head," Kuhn captures a quiet moment away from the commotion of the circus stage. Though the specific personage is unknown, Kuhn's ink and watercolor drawing has the subtle intimacy of a portrait, the comical physical exuberance of the clown's stage presence giving way to an empathetic portrayal of introspection and individuality. Works cited: Philip Rhys Adams, Walt Kuhn, Painter: His Life and Work (Ohio State University Press, 1978); Bennard B. Perlman, Walt Kuhn, 1877-1949 (New York: Midtown Galleries 1989).

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