Jacob Kainen


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Painter, printmaker, and curator. Born in Waterbury, Connecticut, he moved with his family to New York in 1918. He received his artistic training at the Art Students League and Pratt Institute, from which he graduated in 1930. For more than a decade, he then eagerly participated in the art life of the city. In 1935 he joined the graphics workshop sponsored by a federal art project, and by about 1940 he was active among the artists who initiated the abstract expressionist movement. These formative influences defined his interests as an artist, although he left for Washington, D.C., in the early 1940s. There he worked until 1970 in the Smithsonian Institution's graphic arts collections, serving during the last four years as curator of prints at the National Collection of Fine Arts (now the Smithsonian American Art Museum). During his long career as an artist, Kainen worked in varied styles and media. In the 1930s, he was drawn to the predominant American Scene movement and often depicted the ordinary realities of life during the Depression. The lithograph Drought (c. 1935), for example, underlines the precariousness of farming. His less detailed color lithograph Cafeteria (1936) suggests in its emphasis on structure Kainen's evolving interest in abstract form. From the 1940s abstraction predominated, although he sometimes returned to representation. His abstract work included both geometric and freely painted inventions. However, he consistently pursued unified compositions featuring painterly facture and resonant color, as in the lushly painted Only in Darkness (Phillips Collection, 1955). An advocate for printmaking, he worked in many techniques and wrote widely on the medium and its historical masters. He died at his home in the Washington suburb of Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Subjects: Art.

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