Inspiration can hit when you least expect it. One a recent day trip to Maine, I checked out the fantastic Ogunguit Museum of American Art. It’s a small art museum, but it features a beautiful exhibition space and sculpture garden nestled on the scenic rocky Maine coastline.
The breathtaking scenery aside, the highlight of the trip was stumbling onto the painting above. “Sleeping Girl” by Walt Kuhn (1877-1949) is a part of the museum’s permanent collection. I was not previously familiar with the artist’s work, but I was immediately drawn to the subtle abstraction found in the depiction of the figure and the energy found in the paint strokes. I bought a postcard of the painting from the museum’s gift shop (which was used for the scan above) and left wanting to know more about the artist behind this work.
A quick Google search quickly made it clear why I may have been so drawn to this painting. Walt Kuhn had a long and distinguished career that included a role in the landmark Armory Show of 1913, which was instrumental in the development of modern art in America. In addition to a body of work that included thousands of paintings, Kuhn was also an accomplished printmaker, sculptor and, most interestingly, cartoonist.
It’s that last one that probably explains my instant connection with “Sleeping Girl”. While I wouldn’t call this painting “cartoony”, I think you can definitely see a cartoonist’s DNA at work here. The elements I find so appealing in cartooning, things like minimalism and abstraction, are the things that I am usually drawn to in commercial illustration and fine arts. When applied by a master, you really get a sense that you are seeing the world through a unique, and personal perspective.
Walt Kuhn seems like an interesting personality and artist. Check out a brief bio here, and if you are ever in the vicinity of Ogunquit, ME, stop by the museum and check out this wonderful painting.