History And Context
Walt Kuhn’s artistic process was often lengthy and complex and included numerous preparatory sketches. Kuhn was drawn to the theater his entire life and incorporated theatrical elements into his work, including complex costumes and carefully arranged staging. He would choose a specific model and when an idea came together, he worked diligently to complete a painting in a few short days. After the model had left Kuhn would put the finishing touches with feathery, delicate brushstrokes. Lastly, he would sign and date his paintings, and then invite his wife and daughter to view the newest member of Kuhn’s family of “painting children.” Girl with the Mirror became part of Kuhn’s ‘family’ in 1928, during his mature phase of figure paintings.
The model for Girl with Mirror was stage performer Dorothy Hughes. Kuhn painted her within the shallow space of the canvas, yet she does not directly confront the viewer. Kuhn’s technique is articulated by his brilliant use of color, especially in replicating skin, and his skillful brushwork of short, quick strokes that add an immediacy to the painting. Kuhn deftly created a tension between the viewer and the model, as the viewer seems to intrude on her space.
Girl with Mirror was first exhibited at Downtown Gallery in 1929. It was also illustrated on the cover of Art Digest in mid-April of the same year, which is most likely where Duncan Phillips first saw the painting. He traveled to New York to visit the exhibition and purchased the painting during that trip, along with Performer Resting, saying he was “glad to get Kuhn so well represented at last.” Phillips included the painting in a 1932 solo exhibition of Kuhn’s work. The painting was greatly admired by critics for its strength of form and characterization, who commented that, “Kuhn approaches real greatness…in the Girl with a Mirror.”