Born in 1877 to an affluent family in Brooklyn, New York, Walt Francis Kuhn was introduced to theater and the arts early on by his mother. Although best known for his circus figures, clown illustrations and cartoons he occasionally painted still lifes, landscapes and did sculpting. He enrolled in the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute at 15 years old. Known to be impulsive, Walt Kuhn lost interest for a brief period of time and opened a bicycle shop in his hometown of Brooklyn, but it didn’t last and by 1899 he decided to take the money he had saved and moved out west. He worked as a cartoonist and magazine illustrator in San Francisco and by 1901 was able to travel overseas and formally study under Heinrich von Zugel at the Royal Academy in Munich, Germany and he also became influenced by artists Paul Cezanne and Raoul Dufy.
Walt Kuhn returned to New York in 1903 and within the first few years he was already becoming an established artist. His first illustrations appeared in Life Magazine and Kuhn also held his first exhibition at the Salmagundi Club in 1905. He tried teaching for a short period of time at the New York School of Art, but it did not suit him personally although Kuhn’s career as an artist was taking off. He met and married Vera Spier in and exhibited a highly successful show in New York at the Madison Gallery in 1909. Shortly thereafter Walt Kuhn helped establish the Association of American Painters and Sculptors of which he served as the executive secretary. The group helped put together the Armory Show of 1913 which was a huge success showcasing both American Art and European Art to New York for the first time in history.
During his later years, Kuhn’s health began to deteriorate as a result of a duodenal ulcer. It had nearly killed him at the onset in 1925 and by the 1940’s his behavior was said to have become very unstable. Kuhn began distancing himself from people and there were even rumors of attempted suicide. By 1948, he was institutionalized. Walt Kuhn passed away the following year due to a perforated ulcer. Walt Francis Kuhn’s work now appears in collections worldwide including the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Phoenix Art Museum; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; National Gallery of Art; Smithsonian American Art Museum; Phillips Collection; Portland Museum of Art; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art; Joslyn Art Museum; Brooklyn Museum of Art; Albright-Knox Art Gallery; Metropolitan Museum of Art; and many, many more.