Karl Knaths


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Painter and printmaker. His poetic, semi-abstract landscapes and still lifes feature compositional structures drawn from cubism, along with brushy, suggestive drawing and painterly, refined, and muted color. Knaths skillfully adapted European modernism to American subjects and feelings, while also nourishing a faith in nature's spiritual values. Somewhat of a loner, personally as well as artistically, from 1919 he lived year-round in Provincetown, on Cape Cod, a setting that informs most of his mature paintings. Born in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, Otto G. Knaths (the initial K is pronounced) grew up in Portage, north of Madison, and in Milwaukee. Following preliminary training in Milwaukee, he studied until for several years at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago before settling in Provincetown. During the Depression he painted murals for federal art projects and served on the national executive committee of the American Artists' Congress. He also participated from its founding in exhibitions of the American Abstract Artists. He died in a Cape Cod hospital, in Hyannis. Knaths's early, impressionist work indicated Cézanne's appeal even before he met the modernist artists who summered in Provincetown. By about 1930 he had worked out systems of composition and color based largely on theories of Kandinsky and Mondrian. His concern for measured relationships between elements of form and within color combinations produced controlled and harmonious paintings, which at the same time showcase lush, painterly passages. Duck Flight (Whitney Museum, 1948) combines a cubist tabletop still life with a window view onto a landscape. A V-shaped flock of birds is visible in the distance, while a single duck (possibly a decoy) perches on the table, the bright touches in its plumage providing color accents echoed in more subdued tones elsewhere. The arrangement masterfully negotiates the tension between two-dimensional pattern and the space of three dimensions. Not all forms are legible as representation, but the charm of the subject is as clear as the satisfying and unaffected probity of the work's artistry.

Subjects: Art.

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