- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 12, 2002

Washington lost one of its Renaissance men last year, but his spirit and energy live on beautifully with "An Artist's Artists: Jacob Kainen's Collection From Rembrandt to David Smith" at the National Gallery of Art.

Mr. Kainen, who died in March last year at age 91, was a painter, printmaker, curator, scholar and art collector. He was known primarily as a master painter of color and light abstractions but also collected intensely and passionately. As an artist, he joined the many before him who amassed work by other artists.

His interests were wide-ranging and always showed a special kind of curiosity: Mr. Kainen's acquisitions ranged from works by Rembrandt to those of the contemporary painter and printmaker Stanley William Hayter.

The exhibition of 78 works celebrates the artist's generous bequest of 420 prints and drawings, which represented the major share of his collection. Andrew Robison, Andrew W. Mellon senior curator of prints and drawings, has selected superb examples of the Kainen prints from the 16th through 20th centuries for the showing.

"When we look at Jacob's choices, we have to consider the triple aspects of his pursuits as artist, curator-scholar and collector. The three were always active simultaneously," Mr. Robison notes.


As a former curator of the print collections at the Smithsonian's American Art Museum, Mr. Kainen had seen thousands of prints and became fascinated by various print techniques particularly unusual ones.

He especially liked the work of the British printmaker-artist Samuel Palmer (1805-1881), who achieved subtle, exquisite tonalities in his prints similar to those of Rembrandt. Palmer produced minutely worked, poetic landscapes such as the exhibit's "The Rising Moon" (1857). The artist etched it on chine colle, an especially fine paper.

A print by Rembrandt is a must for every print collector, and Mr. Kainen's "Jacob's Ladder" (circa 1655) is an exceptional example, an etching anyone would prize (it was a Christmas gift from his wife, collector Ruth Kainen). Rembrandt bore down with hard, diagonally downward strokes of the etching needle as if a tumult of dark gashes were pouring down from heaven. Above is a gleaming white light that indicates the struggle of Jacob's spiritual ascent.

"We always had it up on the wall; he said it spoke to him," Mrs. Kainen says.

Mr. Kainen also admired the technical alchemy of the French artist Felix Buhot (1847-1898) and collected his atmospheric etchings of ocean scenes and views of cities. Visitors who know Mr. Kainen's sweeping, abstract paintings will be surprised by his fascination with the delicate 17th-century etchings of the Frenchman Laurent de la Hyre (1606-1656).

Mr. Kainen wrote books on the prints of the Venetian Canaletto (1697-1768) and the Englishman John Baptist Jackson and acquired first-rate examples of their work. Canaletto liked to depict sweeping views of cities and towns, and the exhibit's delicately etched "View of a Town with a Bishop's Tomb" (1740) was a Kainen favorite. The collector credited Jackson with reinvigorating the color woodcut tradition in England in the 1700s. Jackson's appealing, sweet-faced animal, "The Lion" (1754) is a highlight of the exhibition.


Mr. Robison has devoted the exhibit's second gallery to a smashing display of Mr. Kainen's German expressionist prints. Many works by the great names are there: Kathe Kollwitz, Otto Dix, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Lovis Corinth, Edvard Munch and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, among others, are there.

The emotional range of these artists evidently appealed to Mr. Kainen. Munch's lithographed portrait of his contemporary August Strindberg (1896) is especially expressive.

Of course, there's much more in this very special exhibition. The third, and final, gallery holds "Le Couple" (1952), an especially lively and colorful print by Mr. Hayter. The Englishman ran Atelier 17 in New York during the late 1940s and early 1950s and experimented with many new print techniques. Mr. Hayter combined engraving, soft ground etching and gouge in this print. (Gouge is a term in printmaking that literally means "to gouge" or "punch" the plate.)

Mr. Kainen worked in New York as an artist in the 1930s, and his friendships with Louis Lozowick, John Graham and David Smith show in their works here.

Mr. Robison chose the prints in this exhibition to illustrate Mr. Kainen's broad aesthetic interests, what Mr. Robison calls "Jacob's artistic friendships" and the artist-collector's technical interests.

The curator succeeds magnificently. The visitor may not be aware of Mr. Kainen's quadruple roles as artist, printmaker, curator-scholar and collector, but they will realize that this Renaissance man only picked out great art.

WHAT: "An Artist's Artists: Jacob Kainen's Collection From Rembrandt to David Smith"

WHERE: National Gallery of Art, West Building, Constitution Avenue and Sixth Street NW

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays, through Feb. 9


PHONE: 202/737-4215

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