The papers of cubist painter Karl Knaths measure 8.9 linear feet and date from 1890 to 1973, with the bulk of the materials dating from 1922 to 1971. The collection includes biographical material, personal and professional correspondence, four diaries, 22 notebooks and notes on theoretical color and compositional approaches to painting, published and draft copies of essays on art, miscellaneous printed material, 132 sketchbooks and other artwork.
Scope and Contents note:
The papers of cubist painter Karl Knaths measure 8.9 linear feet and date from 1890 to 1973, with the bulk of the materials dating from 1922 to 1971. The collection includes biographical material, personal and professional correspondence, four diaries, 22 notebooks and notes on theoretical color and compositional approaches to painting, published and draft copies of essays on art, miscellaneous printed material, and 132 sketchbooks and additional artwork.
Biographical material consists of a copy of Knaths's curriculum vitae, a press release, and miscellaneous personal financial records.
Correspondence in the collection documents Knaths's relationships with family, friends, and business associates after his move to Provincetown, Massachusetts in 1919. Notable correspondents include Duncan and Marjorie Phillips, artist Joseph Meierhans, and the gallery Paul Rosenberg and Co.
The papers include three of Knaths's personal diaries (1916-1919, 1948) and a diary written by F.A. Mehler in 1890. Additional writings include lecture notes from classes that Knaths both attended and taught; 22 notebooks that explore his interest in articulating a color and compositional theory of painting; loose notes on various artists, projects, and facets of painting; several of his completed essays on art, including "Decorative Material" and "Pictorial Analysis;" and a draft of his unpublished manuscript "Ornament and Glory." Writings by others include 15 lecture transcripts from courses taught by Hans Hofmann during the 1930s, Knaths's translations of essays by Piet Mondrian, Kazimir Malevitch, and Carl Einstein, and a biographical essay on Karl Knaths by Paul Mocsanyi.
Printed materials in the collection include clippings, exhibition catalogs, and programs related to Knaths's one-man exhibitions and group shows, and the books Syracuse University Centennial Collection of Art (1970) and Karl Knaths: Five Decades of Painting (1973).
The bulk of the collection consists of 132 sketchbooks and additional artwork. Sketchbooks date from the 1920s to the 1970s and document Knaths's early figurative and landscape studies and later explorations of cubist style and compositional experiments with color, line, and form. Additional artwork includes numerous color charts and diagrams that Knaths kept to inform his painting color palette; outlines of compositional works on both graphed and regular paper; loose pencil sketches and pastels of figures, landscapes, and compositional experiments; and finished paintings and prints.
The collection is arranged as 6 series:
Series 1: Biographical Material, circa 1950s-1971 (Box 1, 8; 6 folders)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1923-1971 (Box 1; .5 linear feet)
Series 3: Writings, 1890, 1916-1968 (Boxes 1-3, 8, OV 14, OV 19; 2 linear feet)
Series 4: Printed Material, circa 1920s-1973 (Box 3, OV 19; 10 folders)
Series 5: Sketchbooks, circa 1920s-1970s (Boxes 3-6, 9-13; 4.5 linear feet)
Series 6: Artwork, circa 1920s-1970s (Box 6, 13, OV 15-18, OV 20-22; 1.8 linear feet)
Karl Knaths (1891-1971), born Otto G. Knaths, lived and worked in Provincetown, Massachusetts and was known for his cubist style of painting.
Knaths was born in Eau Claire, Wisconsin and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago in his early twenties. The 1913 Armory Show provided his first major encounter with modernist art styles and the works of Paul Cezanne and Vincent Van Gogh. In 1919, Knaths moved to Provincetown and began to explore cubist perspectives in his own work, which drew much of its inspiration from the fishing culture and landscapes of his Cape Cod environs. Intellectually curious and drawn to art theory, Knaths recorded his thoughts on composition rules, color classifications, and the potential intersections between music, space, and color theory in notebooks, notes, and sketchbooks throughout his career.
The patronage of art collector Duncan Phillips led to Knaths's first one-man show at the Phillips Collection in 1929. The following year, he landed a solo show at New York's Daniel Gallery. Knaths joined the Works Progress Administration in 1934 and painted murals and other works for a year and a half. From 1938 to 1950, he also taught painting and art theory during a six week course held at the Phillips Art School, and was a guest lecturer at Black Mountain College, North Carolina (1944) and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine (1948). From 1945 to 1971, he was represented by the art gallery Paul Rosenberg and Co. Knaths died in 1971 in his home in Provincetown, at the age of 80.
Related Archival Materials note:
The Archives of American Art holds one oral history interview with Karl Knaths conducted by Dorothy Seckler in 1962; a transcript of a 1968 lecture delivered by Knaths at the Provincetown Art Association in Provincetown, Massachusetts; and a 1955 video recording documenting Knaths's Cape Cod influenced artwork, directed by Jack Calderwood.
The Archives of American Art also holds material lent for microfilming (reel D81) including one sketchbook. Lent materials were returned to the lender and are not described in the collection container inventory.
In 1962, Karl Knaths lent the Archives of American Art a sketchbook and a selection of papers for microfilming. Upon Knath's death in 1972, these papers, excluding the sketchbook, along with additional materials, were willed to the Archives. His executor, Kenneth Desmarais, donated additional material from Knaths's estate in 1977 and 1980.
Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C. Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.
The Karl Knaths papers are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.