Artist Bios



The following obituary of the artist is from (March 19, 2001):

A Moving Life in Art

The art books of the future will have to be fairly thick before they get to Jacob Kainen, who may not have been this city's greatest painter. Still, Washington feels different, cast adrift, now that he is gone.

Kainen, in the studio, was subtle, serious, diligent and idiosyncratic, but art history is ruthless, and this may not be enough. Perhaps he knew too much.

The largeness of his mind may well have worked against him. His many ways of thinking made his pictures feel ambiguous, insufficiently clear-cut. His art was often muted by reconsiderations. His aesthetic innovations came a beat or two too late. Flash was not his thing.

His wife, Ruth, said he died of a heart attack in a matter of seconds yesterday morning as he was getting dressed to go to his studio. He was 91. Posterity is stingy. Only a few artists will be remembered as key figures. Kainen worked with many, but perhaps he wasn't really one himself.

Except in Washington. Among the elders of our art world his status was immense.

In the national museums he did so much to build, in the white studio in Kensington where he painted every day, among connoisseurs of prints, or, late in his long life, among other art collectors, he carried the authority of a patriarch, a sage.

You caught something of his specialness when you watched him look at pictures. He always did so deeply, never merely glanced, for he could curate art, and make it, and write learnedly about it. He interrogated objects with these interlocking skills.

This was rare enough. Even rarer was the way he moored us to the past.

In the bitter 1930s, when Greenwich Village leftists made art go proletarian, Kainen had been one of them. He'd published small cartoons in the "Daily Worker." This later got him into trouble. He'd painted stevedores, gaunt miners, the cloth-capped unemployed.

Much later one might see him, natty in black tie, easy in the company of the wealthy givers to the National Gallery of Art. But Kainen, in the '30s, was as broke as his subjects. For $24 a week he'd joined the WPA.

He was also a participant when a newer kind of painting, freer, more abstract, began brewing in Manhattan. The abstract expressionist manner wasn't brewed in bars.

Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky and Mark Rothko, the founders of the style, didn't have the money for bars. They hung out in all-night cafeterias, and as they argued art for hours over thick white mugs of coffee, Kainen had been one of them, accepted as a peer.

Gorky did his portrait in 1934.

Washington, in those days, was a city in the sticks. Kainen helped to make it the art town it is now. He came here, for the money, during World War II.

By 1942, Kainen, in his scholar mode, already knew so much about printmaking's technologies -- about aquatint and drypoint, paper types and etcher's ink -- that he was hired as a specialist by the Smithsonian Institution.

In the course of his employment there he helped to build two surveys of the history of printmaking, the first for the U.S. National Museum (now the National Museum of Natural History), the second for the National Collection of Fine Arts (now the Smithsonian American Art Museum). And throughout his curatorial years he had not one career, but two.

"He worked at the museum until 5:15; grabbed a quick supper, and by 6 o'clock was at his unheated studio at 3140 M Street," wrote historian Avis Berman in a catalogue accompanying the Kainen retrospective arranged by the Smithsonian in 1993. "He painted until 10 or 11 o'clock, then returned home to do some writing or museum research until 2 a.m. because the Smithsonian would not allow him to do scholarly writing on government time. Kainen adhered to this routine for decades."

This city's leafy landscape soon crept into his pictures. He was especially attracted to the curious pointed turrets that the row houses he found here wore jauntily, like caps.

Most Washingtonians in those days couldn't understand his art. Its depictions were too simplified, its colors too peculiar, its spirit too advanced. But there were a few exceptions, and one was Duncan Phillips, who for his family's museum bought a Kainen streetscape in 1942.

When Washington began producing art that felt distinctly new, Kainen helped it happen.

He was present at the birth of the Washington Color School -- though perhaps as an uncle rather than a father.

The Washington color painters -- Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Gene Davis, Thomas Downing, Alma Thomas and the others -- made big, amazing objects. Often they adhered to rigorous geometries, hard-edged stripes, concentric circles. They made wholly abstract art.

Kainen might have joined them, had he been a joiner, but he never turned to staining or gave up layered colors or abandoned figuration as the color painters did. Instead he served them in another role -- as instructor and exemplar.

"Jacob was a pro," Noland remembered. "He wasn't just a teacher. He was a real artist, a New York artist."

He was also a collector.

He began collecting art at age 7 -- well, not art exactly, but the little reproductions that were published every Sunday in the rotogravure section of Jewish Daily Forward.

His parents, Russian immigrants, had given him a childhood in which culture was appreciated, erudition valued, industry expected. He printed his first drypoint through the rollers of his mother's washing machine. He entered high school at 12.

Some people regard art as a form of self-expression. Kainen wasn't one. Soul was not enough. Art required learning. As a stock boy at Brentano's he read all the art books in the store (in those days there weren't many). When he discovered the Metropolitan Museum of Art he approached it as assiduously. He didn't merely look, he made copies of the paintings -- by Claude Lorrain, Corot and Rembrandt -- hanging on the walls.

He knew studio practice, theory, and the byways of art history. His sharp eye had been sharpened by many years of study in the print rooms of museums, and you sensed his erudition when you looked at what he bought.

In 1985, a strong historical exhibit -- "German Expressionist Prints From the Collection of Ruth and Jacob Kainen" -- opened to the public at the National Gallery of Art. The 90 pictures on display were probably were worth millions. One Ernst Kirchner lithograph had already sold at auction for $135,894, and there were more than 20 Kirchners in the Kainens' focused show.

The German artists Kainen bought did not make pretty pictures. They sought the troubling, the coarse. When museum folk, investors, dealers and collectors began to recognize, belatedly, just how much German expressionism had gone into abstract expressionism, they found Jacob Kainen had known it all along.

Ruth Cole Kainen had known it, too. They had met in 1968 at a luncheon at the Woman's National Democratic Club. Somehow Kirchner's name had come up in conversation, and when he started to explain just who Kirchner was, she replied, with some annoyance, that she already owned his art.

They were married a year later. Ruth became his champion, his adviser, his companion in collecting, the key promoter of his art.

They gave their best works to the National Gallery -- the third Washington museum enriched by his eye.

The Red Scare almost got Jacob Kainen.

Between 1948 and 1954, he was investigated closely. "Kainen," writes Berman, "was uncomfortably familiar with the outcome of such interrogations because one of his brothers, a meteorologist at the Department of Commerce who had never been politically active, was dismissed from his job for having signed a political petition in the early 1930s. Kainen, who had also signed it, knew that it was only a matter of time before his own future would be jeopardized."

Soon enough it was. He was called up before the Smithsonian's loyalty board, and then the civil service's. Had he not presented three commendation letters from J. Edgar Hoover (during World War II, he had helped the FBI analyze the inks of Nazi propaganda), Kainen would probably have lost his curatorial job.

In retrospect, this episode seems utterly preposterous. If anyone in Washington was less a threat than Kainen, it's not easy to think who.

Kainen was no dogmatist. After the Depression, preachiness of any sort vanished from his pictures. "Idealism," he warned in 1983, "is a snare for the guileless." In all the years he showed here -- and he showed a lot -- no party line controlled the content of his art. (Kainen's works on paper are on view at Hemphill Fine Arts in Georgetown.)

He was always a contrarian. Voguish trends annoyed him. When abstraction was most fashionable in the 1960s, he stubbornly, characteristically returned to figuration. When the wheel turned again, and abstraction lost its chic, Kainen began making big, clean-cut abstractions. In the long and fervent 20th-century battle between the representational and the nonobjective, he fought with courage on both sides.

And with tenderness as well. Tender was one of his favorite adjectives. Blatancy distressed him. He loved painting, he once wrote, for "its tenderness, its opacities and translucencies, its reserves and contrasts, its magical charge of color."

"Magical," for Kainen, was another term of praise. When depicting mundane subjects -- fire escapes or street signs -- he made them seem enchanted. When presenting abstract forms -- squares or grids or ovals -- he did something as mysterious. He made those chill shapes seem humane.

His oils, toward the end, sold for as much as $50,000 each, but you never got the sense he was in it for the money.

Next time you see a Kainen, try peering past the colors. See if you can glimpse there the spirit of the man, and how much he revered art.



Born in Mount Vernon, New York, he studied at the Pratt Instititue in New York from 1950 to 1953 with Calvin Alberts and Philip Guston. He received an M.F.A. from the University of Illinois at Urbana. In 1958, he began a longtime career as Professor of Printmaking at the University of Florida. He has explored half-tone and photo intaglio techniques combined with traditional methods. His residence has been Gainsville, Florida.

Knaths, Karl (Otto Karl)
Birth / Death State: Often Known For:
1891 - 1971 MA (Strongest affiliation) cubist still life-figure, non-ob
From Eau Claire, Wisconsin, he studied at the Milwaukee Art Institute and for five years at the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1919, he settled for the rest of his life in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Building his own house, he lived simply and modestly while earning a distinctive national reputation. In his unique Cubism he combined subtle color, varying textures and arbitrary shapes. He was one of the original exhibitors with American Abstract Artists in 1937. Duncan Phillips was a principal supporter and collected over forty of his canvases. He also taught courses at numerous eastern art schools.


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KARL KNATHS, WHO LIVED IN PROVINCETOWN, MASSACHUSETTS, FROM 1919 UNTIL HIS DEATH IN 1971, was one of the first Americans whose work found its way into Albert Gallatin's Gallery of Living Art. By virtue of his residence away from New York, Knaths was never an active member of the American Abstract Artists. Nevertheless, his affiliation brought distinction to the group. Knaths was older than many of the group's members, and exhibited in New York to generally positive reviews from about 1930 on (although he once remarked that except for Duncan Phillips's annual purchase, he did not sell a single painting for twenty-three years).[1] Recognized as an important modernist, he had the valuable support of Duncan Phillips. Over the years Phillips bought many of Knath's paintings and frequently invited him to lecture at The Phillips Collection in Washington. In October 1945, Knaths exhibited in a group show at the Paul Rosenberg Gallery. The following January, he had the first of twenty-two solo exhibitions---almost one each year---until his death twenty-five years later.

Originally from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, in 1912, Knaths entered the school of the Art Institute of Chicago where he remained for five years. From there he went to New York, and later settled in Provincetown. In 1922, three years after his move to Cape Cod, he married Helen Weinrich, a pianist, whose sister Agnes was a Paris-trained abstract painter, and built the house that would be his home for the remainder of his life. During the winters, the Knaths and Weinrich usually spent a month in New York; but Europe, which attracted so many of Knaths' colleagues, failed to lure him from his beloved Provincetown.

Yet, in his lecture notes, and in a manuscript for an unpublished book entitled Ornament & Glory, Knaths' thorough understanding of modernist tenets as well as the principles of Renaissance and subsequent European art is apparent.[2] His papers contain typescripts of Hans Hofmann's lectures and writings by Mondrian, Malevich, Kandinsky, and other important theorists of modernism. Yet of all the artists whose work he knew well, the strongest parallels to Knaths' work come with Cézanne's late paintings. Both artists blended an intuitional understanding of structure with motifs drawn from observed nature. For his subject matter, Knaths drew repeatedly from his Provincetown surroundings: deer in landscape settings, clamdiggers returning from work, fishing shacks, boats in the harbor, still lives of duck decoys and fishing paraphernalia. But Knaths also found inspiration in American folklore and literature, and did paintings of Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan, and Herman Melville's Ahab.

Knaths was one of the most theoretically inclined painters of his generation. He agreed with Kandinsky that "there are definite, measurable correspondences between sound in music and color and space in painting: specifically, between musical intervals and color intervals and spatial proportions."[3 ] Knaths worked out intricate charts for color and musical ratios, which he used to determine directional lines and proportions in his paintings. Like Hofmann, he believed that "whatever is to be realized by the painting should arise through the use of pictorial elements in a thematic way. The surface being the prime element, it is possible to manipulate full spaciousness within its flat terms. . . ."[4]

At some point, Knaths discovered Wilhelm Ostwald's color system. Based on color and not on light, the Ostwald system was devised as a way of ordering color, and was quite popular among American artists of the time. Knaths not only used this system, he harnessed it to a complex set of mathematical and geometrical relations-akin to musical proportions-so that the theoretical foundations of his art were both complex and highly worked out.

In his paintings, whether sketchy, experimental works like the Untitled gouache, circa 1939-40, or in more highly ordered canvases, Knaths remained true to the artistic principles he began to develop early in his life.

1. Paul Richard, "Conflict of Colors: Karl Knaths at the Phillips Collection," The Washington Post, 11 September 1982, C-1.

2. An edited transcription of Knaths' Ornament & Glory that includes facsimile reproductions of about half the manuscript pages was published in Jean and Jim Young, Ornament & Glory: Theme and Theory in the Work of Karl Knaths (Annandale-on-Hudson, New York: Edith C. Blum Art Institute, Milton and Sally Avery Center for the Arts, The Bard College Center, 1982).

3. Lloyd Goodrich, Karl Knaths (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1959).

4. Karl Knaths, "The Problem of a Painter," Ornament & Glory, p. 35.

Source:Virginia M. Mecklenburg. "The Patricia and Phillip Frost Collection: American Abstraction, 1930-1945" (Washington, DC: National Museum of American Art and Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989), pp. 121-123. Copyright 1989 Smithsonian Institution. All rights reserved.


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PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Jacob Landau, an illustrator, printmaker and painter, died Nov. 24 of pneumonia. He was 83.

Landau studied at the Philadelphia College of Art, now the University of the Arts, and later in France at the Academie Julian and the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere.

In 1957, he became an instructor at New York's Pratt Institute where he served as chairman of the department of graphic arts from 1964 to 1968. He retired as a full professor about 10 years ago.

Landau's works are in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and museums in France and Germany.

Landau, part of the generation of artists whose social consciousness was shaped by the Depression and World War II, often focused on heroic themes that involved the nature of man.

One of his lithographs, from his Dante Suite, is of bodies impaled on giant thorns, and another shows a prisoner tied to a stake being bayoneted.

Copyright © 2001 The Associated Press

Artist Jacob Landau gone, but his work survives
85-year-old Roosevelt artist died Nov. 24

By Linda Denicola
Staff Writer

Roosevelt has lost another very special resident, and the art world has lost a luminary. But more importantly, with the death of artist Jacob Landau, the world has lost a beacon shining light into the darkness of the human condition. At a time like this, with a war going on in Afghanistan and terrorism the "ism" of the day, his vision is more important than ever before.

"I have a strong sense of how man's inhumanity to man has worked to create the kind of society we live in," the artist said in March 1999 at the time of his retrospective exhibit at the Woodmere Art Museum in Philadelphia.

The exhibit represented the largest group of Landau's work ever assembled, with more than 150 pieces. Called "Heroic Obsession: The Graphic Art of Jacob Landau," it traveled to the Tobey C. Moss Gallery in Los Angeles and to the George Krevsky Fine Art Gallery in San Francisco.

"I've been called a humanist. I'm involved with the tradition of protest that comes from the prophets of the Old Testament. They were concerned with justice and injustice. I am too," he added.

Jacob Landau died on Nov. 24 and is buried in the tiny Roosevelt Cemetery near his friends and fellow artists Ben Shahn and Gregorio Prestopino. He would have celebrated his 86th birthday on Dec. 17.

There was a tribute to the artist, who suffered from Parkinson's disease, at the Princeton Theological Seminary, Erdman Center, on Friday night. His work, which had been on exhibit all month, was also on display.

According to his friend and neighbor, David Herstrom, more than 100 people attended the service, many of them from Roosevelt. "Jacob was a lover of Beethoven's music and played it while he worked. Alan Mallach, a classical pianist from Roosevelt, played a Beethoven sonata" at the service, Herstrom said.

Herstrom, who owns six pieces of Landau's work, said, "It is such a loss in my life. As a person, he had tremendous warmth and compassion, as well as a steely intellect. He was entranced with the human form and its beauty. He was sort of a counter to a lot of trivial forces. Forces that trivialize art and what it has to do in our world."

He added that "Jacob's work was not created to go with a decor or sell for millions of dollars. His work had this wonderful quality of challenging you as well as seducing you. You came to feel that you needed his work. It has an exhilarating quality."

Landau was a witness to the cruelty of human beings, but he had a comic intuition, Herstrom said. "He was also concerned with the apocalyptic dissolution of the earth. He had a sense of struggle that gives his work a hard edge, like the work of Goya or the poet (William) Blake, who was also a printmaker. He had Blake's wonderful vision of what the human possibilities were."

According to Herstrom, among Landau's greatest works is the Dante Cycle. Created in 1974, it includes seven lithographs illustrating the inferno. Herstrom also particularly admires 10 stained-glass windows that the artist created in 1969 or 1970. Each is 5 feet wide by 20 feet high and dedicated to a different biblical prophet. They are at the Knesset Israel Congregation in Elkins Park, a suburb of Philadelphia.

Rosa Giletti, who owns the Rosa T. Giletti Fine Art Gallery in Pennsylvania, has represented Landau exclusively for the past 11 years, but she had known him for 15 years. Her voice broke as she spoke about him and their collaboration.

Giletti said as soon as she saw his work, she knew he was a brilliant man and his work was completely unique. "I found it to be inspiring, invigorating and thought-provoking. His art reflected his intense curiosity about the world, and about people."

According to Giletti, he was a Renaissance man. His musical interests ranged from Bob Dylan to Beethoven. He knew every classical artist, every visual artist, and read hundreds and hundreds of books on every subject imaginable

"He was a totally open human being," always humble, kind and sensitive, she said.

Giletti, who visited Landau every day in the hospital during his recent convalescence, said he loved Roosevelt for its openness and space, and that he loved flowers, even the moss on the ground. "Looking up at the ceiling tiles above his bed in the hospital, he said he saw landscapes. He loved life," she said.

Giletti said she will never forget him. In fact, she is not about to let others forget him either. She is compiling an exhibition of his work for Drew University, Madison, where organizers want to house archival and biographical data on Landau. "They will be a source of information for anyone who needs history on him. We anticipate a large retrospective within the next year or two," she said.

She plans to set up a Jacob Landau Trust Memorial Fund in order to maintain his studio and store his art work. "Any purchases of his art work will go toward keeping his legend alive," she said.

Right now the studio is open by appointment only. To contact Giletti, call (215) 368-2536.

Herstrom and Landau had been neighbors since 1975 when Herstrom moved to Roosevelt. "I was very interested in his work. Together, with a couple of other people, we founded the Roosevelt Arts Project. Landau was the first president," Herstrom said.

Landau moved to Roosevelt in 1954, after having lived in Paris and then in Flushing, N.Y. He was told that it was an affordable place to live for someone trying to make it in the art world.

There was a group of artists living in the town, including the renowned artist Ben Shahn, as well as several writers and folk musicians.

After moving to a house on Pine Drive with his wife, Francis, and two children, he built a dome house that he used as a studio. In 1990 he began living at the dome house.

His wife, Francis, died in 1993. His son Jonas lives in Hopewell and Stefan lives in Albuquerque, N.M. He also has a grandson, Orion, who is an artist in Philadelphia.

In 1999, Landau finished a limited edition book, The Francis Cycle: Some Motions of the Earth. He used his own art and the poetry of Herstrom to give voice to the words his wife spoke as she dealt with the effects of Alzheimer's disease.

"It is mostly for the people who knew and loved her," Landau had said of the book. "It's not a commercial venture."

Herstrom said that Landau had used some of his wife's phrases as titles to his works. Herstrom was copying down her phrases also. "She was always part of our meetings. She was included in everything we did, and she always made striking observations."

Although not meant to be a commercial venture, the book has been for sale at all of Landau's shows and can be purchased through the Giletti gallery.

Landau served on the faculty of the Philadelphia College of Art, after which he went on to teach at Pratt Institute, where he became chair of the Department of Graphic Art and Illustration, remaining there until 1980.

In 1975, he also became a faculty member at the Artist-Teacher Institute, an intensive 10-day summer residency program sponsored by the New Jersey Council on the Arts.

His artistic talent was apparent from an early age. He discovered art at around the age of 3 and recalled wanting to draw everything he saw.

As a teen-ager, having found inspiration from artists like Beethoven and the Mexican muralist, Orozco, Landau won five prizes in a juried Scholastic magazine competition for his illustrations of Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book. He remembered hearing his work described as reaching the point of genius.

His first professional work was as an illustrator of books and magazine stories. He won a scholarship to the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art (now the University of the Arts), but in 1943 his studies were interrupted by a two-year stint in the armed forces.

When he came home to the states, he illustrated children's books, comic books and advertisements to support his fine art.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Landau become known for his one-person shows and a steady stream of awards and grants. While in Los Angeles, he rediscovered lithographs, creating portfolios like Charades, the Holocaust Suite, the E. T. A. Hoffman Suite, the King of Dreams series and the Dante Cycle.

From the late 1970s onward, the emergence of religious themes became evident. His projects included drawings interpreting and accompanying poetic and other writings on St. John, Jonah, Lazarus, Jacob and Christ. In 1983, he was given a major exhibition at the New Jersey State Museum.

In 1999, he started a group of drawings called Necropolis that expressed his horror at the carnage of the 20th century. He calculated that 130 million people were killed in all of the wars.

Well before the events of Sept. 11, an art critic wrote that Landau's art presents an image of humankind frequently wrestling with events focused, more often than not, on catastrophe: "The images ask us to put selfishness, cruelty, injustice and greed aside in favor of searching for reason, balance, and faith in justice and human decency."


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Levit, H.

Painter and printmaker Herschel Levit was born in Pennsylvania in 1912. He studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and was a member of the Philadelphia Art Alliance, Philadelphia Print Club, and the Modern Etchers Group.

Levit exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, 1934-36, 1966-69; Art Institute of Chicago, 1934-35, 1938-39; Springfield Art Museum, 1938; Philadelphia Art Alliance, 1938, 1944-46; Oklahoma Art Club, 1940; Allied Artists of America, 1945-46; Philadelphia Print Club, 1946;
Library of Congress, 1946; Brooklyn Museum; Metropolitan Museum of Art. His work is represented in the collections of the Free Library, Department of Education, Philadelphia; the University of Pennsylvania Museum; and the Mexican Navy Department, Mexico City. Employed by the WPA, his commissions included murals at the Rowan School, Philadelphia; Recorder of Deeds Building, Washington, DC; USPO Buildings, Leisville, OH and Jenkintown, PA. He created illustrations for a wide range of periodicals, books and record covers. He also taught at Pratt Institute.


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