Born in 1909 in Connecticut, Jacob Kainen moved with his parents to New York in 1918. It was there, in association with a score of now famous painters who were his friends—including Milton Avery, Stuart Davis, Arshile Gorky, John Graham, and David Smith—that Kainen developed as an artist.
Kainen’s experiences in New York art circles in the late 30s—the experiments, the discoveries, the philosophical and aesthetic conflicts—flavored his work. His early artistic explorations coincided with the maturation of American abstract painting, and while his own work at that time followed a direction more attuned to German expressionism, his artistic development still owed much to concepts shared by this group of daring New York painters. Therefore, despite Kainen’s living in Washington, D.C. for almost half a century, his outlook of his work remained part of the New York art scene. Certain influences from the New York School—that of Arshile Gorky in particular and of abstract expressionism in general—are discernible in the body of work he produced in Washington, his most remarkable characteristic being his distinctive gestural handling of paint and color in a manner that is both forceful and expressive.
Kainen distinguished himself not only as a painter and printmaker but also as a curator, overseeing prints for the U.S. National Museum from 1944 to 1966 and prints and drawings for the National Collection of Fine Arts (now the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Art) from 1966 to 1970. His many one-person exhibitions include museum shows at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1956 and 1960 and at The Phillips Collection in 1973, 1980, and 1985.