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Walt Kuhn (1877-1949)
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Walt Kuhn (1877-1949)

Bareback Rider

Details
Walt Kuhn (1877-1949)
Bareback Rider
signed and dated 'Walt Kuhn/1926' (lower left)--inscribed with title (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
40 x 30 in. (101.6 x 76.2 cm.)
Painted in 1926.
Provenance
The artist.
[With]The Downtown Gallery, New York.
Dr. B.D. Saklatwalla, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, acquired from the above, by 1929.
Sotheby Parke-Bernet, New York, 1 May 1946, lot 70, sold by the above.
The Downtown Gallery, New York.
The Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont, acquired from the above, 1960.
The Downtown Gallery, New York, acquired from the above, 1961.
The Edith Gregor Halpert Collection, New York.
Sotheby Parke-Bernet, New York, 20th Century American Paintings, Drawings, Watercolors and Sculpture: The Edith Gregor Halpert Collection (The Downtown Gallery), 14 March 1973, lot 86, sold by the above.
Dain Gallery, New York, acquired from the above.
[With]Forum Gallery, New York.
Private collection, North Carolina, acquired from the above.
[With]John Surovek Gallery, Palm Beach, Florida.
Neal Andrews, Birmingham, Alabama, acquired from the above.
[With]John Surovek Gallery, Palm Beach, Florida.
Private collection, Naples, Florida, acquired from the above.
[With]Debra Force Fine Art, Inc., New York.
Acquired by the late owner from the above, 2012.
Literature
San Francisco Examiner, September 9, 1928, illustrated.
"Grand Central Art Galleries," American Magazine of Art, Winter 1929, illustrated.
Creative Art, January 1930, illustrated.
Space, June 1930, illustrated.
Carnegie Magazine, April 1934, pp. 5, 7, illustrated.
Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, April 13, 1934, illustrated.
P. Bird, Fifty Paintings by Walt Kuhn, New York, 1940, p. 1, illustrated.
R.R. Bowker, American Art Directory, vol. 37, Washington, D.C., 1945, p. 430.
C. Burrows, “A Taste for Things to Come,” New York Herald Tribune, September 17, 1961 (as Circus Rider).
P.R. Adams, Walt Kuhn, Painter: His Life and Works, Columbus, Ohio, 1978, pp. 102, 104, 117, 249, no. 164.
Arts in Virginia, vols. 25-26, 1984, p. 2.
Exhibited
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Paintings by Nineteen Living Americans, December 13, 1929-January 12, 1930, no. 47.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Carnegie Institute of Technology, An Exhibition of Paintings from the Collection of B.D. Saklatwalla, April 12-May 17, 1934, illustrated.
New York, The Downtown Gallery, New Acquisitions, December 29, 1959-January 23, 1960.
Dallas, Texas, Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Collector’s Choice, November 15-December 3, 1961, illustrated.
New York, The Downtown Gallery, 36th Annual Spring Exhibition, May 22-June 15, 1962.
Dallas, Texas, Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts, Arts of the Circus, October 9-November 11, 1962.
New York, The Downtown Gallery, New York City, May 12-June 5, 1964, no. 12.
New York, The Downtown Gallery, Gallery Survey of American Art, September-October 1965.
Tucson, Arizona, University of Arizona Art Gallery, Walt Kuhn: Painter of Vision, February 6-March 23, 1966, p. 45, no. 46, illustrated.
New York, The Downtown Gallery, 41st Anniversary Exhibition, October 18-November 12, 1966.
Washington, D.C., National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution, Opening Exhibition, May-September 1968, p. 17.
New York, The Downtown Gallery, 43rd Anniversary Exhibition, September 10-October 5, 1968.
New York, The Downtown Gallery, The Performing Arts, March 1969.
Washington, D.C., National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution, Edith Gregor Halpert Memorial Exhibition, April 1972, no. 11.
Special notice

On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.

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Lot Essay

One of the founding members of the 1913 Armory Show, Brooklyn-born Walt Kuhn importantly facilitated the introduction of European Modernism to America. Having studied at the Académie Colarossi in Paris and the Royal Academy in Munich, modern masters such as Paul Cézanne left lasting impressions on his work. After his return to the United States, Kuhn became a major proponent of American Modernism by forming the Association of American Painters and Sculptors alongside fellow artist Arthur B. Davies. The Association’s first and only exhibition, the historic Armory Show exposed the American public to progressive new art for the first time. In his famous series of circus performers and showgirls, including the present early example, Bareback Rider, Kuhn applies the innovative styles he helped propagate to the thoroughly modern subject of the New York theater scene.

Although Kuhn also painted still lifes and landscapes, his best-known works are striking figural studies of stage entertainers. His mother’s love of theater left an imprint at a young age, and in the early 1920s, Kuhn worked as a director and designer on Broadway to support his family. Kuhn’s intimate relationships behind-the-scenes of theater productions translated into his focused canvases. In his portraits, as epitomized by Bareback Rider, the artist captures performers at close-range in costume and make-up, but strips the glamor of the stage in exchange for the reality of life behind the curtain. Inherently modern works in both execution and subject matter, Kuhn’s images of theater life mirror the works of “The Eight,” a group of artists including William Glackens, Robert Henri, Everett Shinn and John Sloan, who sought to capture scenes of everyday urban life. Meanwhile, the confident sexuality and directness of Kuhn’s female figures recall avant-garde European progression and anticipate Richard Prince’s provocative nurse series. Curator John I.H. Baur reflected on Kuhn’s complex depictions, “There is no mistaking the artist’s intent, his interest in the tragic and human side of his character rather than its traditional glamour, and one is led to the conclusion that Kuhn’s art today springs from the same general current which produced the pallid harlots and dance hall queens of Toulouse-Lautrec over a quarter of a century ago” (J. I.H. Baur, quoted in Walt Kuhn, Painter: His Life and Work, Columbus, 1978, p. 104).

In Bareback Rider, Kuhn underscores the showgirl’s multi-faceted personality through the contrast between her confident physical pose and distanced facial expression. Kuhn purposefully depicts his subject free of excess detail and in front of a simplified background, elements the artist would return to again and again in his later paintings. As a result, Bareback Rider stands at the beginning of the most important work of Kuhn’s oeuvre. Indeed, Paul Bird wrote of the significance of Bareback Rider on the first page of his 1940 Kuhn monograph: “We begin with a prophetic picture. Not until years afterward did the artist understand this painting’s relation to his own career. In the limbs and torso is the same vibrant tension that so completely characterizes a later Walt Kuhn figure. Here it first appeared, at the time unexpected and unexplained” (P. Bird, 50 Paintings by Walt Kuhn, New York, 1940, p. 1).

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