Walt Kuhn (American, 1877-1949),
Woman With a Black Necklace
oil on canvas, 30 x 25 in.; 76.2 x 63.5 cm.
Gift of Mr. Charles Simon, 1979.139
Growing up in Brooklyn in a seamen's hotel owned by his parents, Kuhn was exposed to exotic characters and tales of strange lands that provoked his far-ranging imagination and later inspired themes for his art. Kuhn spent two years in Europe, where he studied at the Académie Colarossi in Paris and more extensively at the Royal Academy in Munich. in 1903 Kuhn returned to New York to paint and supported himself by drawing cartoons.
Like many American artists who had been abroad and found European art both challenging and inhibiting, Kuhn became discouraged by his own explorations in painting that resulted in pastiches of Impressionism, Cubism, and German Expressionism. A ruthless self-critic, Kuhn destroyed many of his early paintings that did not meet his exacting standards. After years of frustration, it was Kuhn's study of Paul Cézanne that became paramount to his work. He admired both the solidity of Cézanne's forms, achieved by carefully structured areas of complementary colors, and his compression of space within the picture.
In Woman with Black Necklace, the brilliant reds, greens, and blacks of her form against the deep blue background have a surprising weight and solidity, despite the lack of modeling. Even the black beads of her necklace look more like dense lumps of coal than bits of costume jewelry. Appropriately, Kuhn gives his portrait of this strangely gaudy woman, who is probably a gypsy, a magnetic, powerful physical presence.