- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2001

Jacob Kainen, an internationally renowned painter and former museum curator, died yesterday at his home in Chevy Chase, Md., after a cardiac arrest. He was 91.

His exhibit of paintings on paper made between 1950 and 1995 opened March 7 at Hemphill Fine Arts in Georgetown and was a quick sellout. He was readying recent paintings for a one-man show in May at the Katharina Rich Perlow Gallery in New York when he died.

"With his passing, we lose a great painter, a great intellectual and an artist of great human, social and political sensibility," said George Hemphill, Mr. Kainen's Washington dealer.

Mr. Kainen had been confined to a wheelchair with back pain and arthritis since his birthday on Dec. 7 and worked in his Kensington studio to the end.

Galleries displaying permanent collections of his works include Washington's National Gallery of Art, New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art, London's British Museum, Jerusalem's Bezalel National Museum and the Kunsthalle in Hamburg, Germany, among others.

Critics and collectors prize his canvases for their singing colors and swinging, sinuous lines. The Smithsonian Institution's American Art Museum honored Mr. Kainen with a major retrospective in 1993, when he was 83.

"A man of fierce convictions, his views especially on matters of art evolved through continual looking, wide reading and much thought. But personally he is gentle of manner and unfailingly gracious," said Alan Fern, director emeritus of the National Portrait Gallery.

Born in 1909 in Waterbury, Conn., Mr. Kainen trained as a prizefighter as a boy. He also could quote endlessly from Shakespeare and was versed in the Greek classics.

Mr. Kainen began his artistic career at the height of the Great Depression in New York City, working as a sign painter, greeting card designer and medical illustrator.

In New York, he befriended Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning, Stuart Davis and John Graham, and often looked back on those days as among his most stimulating. New York was at the beginning of the abstract-expressionism led by Jackson Pollock and de Kooning.

He was forced to leave New York in 1942 to take a graphic-artist job at the Smithsonian's U.S. National Museum; in 1944, he became the museum's assistant curator. Mr. Kainen was the museum's curator from 1946 to 1966.

The artist painted in the abstract-expressionist mode and used nonrepresentational symbols in creating protest paintings during the Joseph McCarthy years.

From 1966 to 1970, Mr. Kainen served as curator of the Smithsonian's National Collection of Fine Arts.

The artist was also a print expert and collector.

Mr. Kainen and his wife, Ruth, amassed a nationally renowned collection of some 2,000 prints, drawings and sculptures noted for their richness in German Expressionism.

Among the 162 works given by the Kainens to the National Gallery were two very rare paintings by Ludwig Kirchner donated for its 50th anniversary celebration.

Max Berry, chairman of the national board of trustees of the Smithsonian Institution, recalled a recent birthday celebration for Mr. Kainen at the Marrakesh restaurant.

"He was a terrific artist and wonderful friend, and at the Marrakesh he focused on the belly dancers," Mr. Berry said.

Mr. Kainen is survived by his wife and two sons, Paul and Daniel, from a previous marriage.

He will be buried tomorrow at the Adas Israel Congregation at Connecticut Avenue and Porter Street NW. A memorial service will be held later.

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