Jacob Kainen (1909-2001) was for several decades one of the most internationally respected of Washington artists. Born in Connecticut, Jacob Kainen moved with his Russian parents to New York in 1918, where, in association with a score of now famous painters who were his friends—including Milton Avery, Stuart Davis, Arshile Gorky, John Graham, and David Smith— Kainen developed as an artist. Kainen’s early artistic development coincided with the maturation of American abstract painting, and while his early work followed a direction more attuned to German expressionism, his artistic development still owed much to concepts shared by this group of daring New York painters.
Before coming to Washington, Kainen’s career had already gained considerable momentum. He had studied at the Art Students League, Pratt Institute, and New York University. In 1935, at the suggestion of his friend Stuart Davis, Kainen joined the graphic art division of the WPA (the Work Projects Administration was a Federal Agency from 1935 to 1943, charged with instituting and administering public works in order to relieve national unemployment). During this time, Kainen became friends with emerging artists such as Willem de Kooning, John Graham, and Adolf Dehn, whose friendships brought him new inspiration and greater influence in the art world.
Kainen distinguished himself not only as a painter and printmaker, but also as a curator, overseeing prints for the U.S. National Museum from 1944 to 1966 and prints and drawings for the National Collection of Fine Arts (now the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Art) from 1966 to 1970. His many one- person exhibitions include museum shows at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1956 and 1960 and at The Phillips Collection in 1973, 1980, 1985 and a retrospective exhibition in 1994 at the National Museum of American Art.
Kainen was a founder of the Washington Print Club, and acknowledged “dean” of the Washington art community up until his death in 2001. He played a major role in bringing Washington’s art community “up to speed” with major currents in the evolving art world, encouraging younger artists such Gene Davis and others of the Washington Color School.
The Academy Art Museum is proud to present the paintings and prints in this exhibition that reveal Kainen’s gradual shift from figural to abstract forms of one of Washington’s foremost 20th century artists. The exhibition includes The Washington Portfolio (David Adamson Editions, 1994, 10 Washington artists, including Jacob Kainen) in the Museum’s Atrium Gallery.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website.