Walt Kuhn is remembered as an early promoter of modern art in America. He was not only a well-known painter, but also a cartoonist, sculptor, printmaker, writer, teacher, and producer of vaudeville shows. Born in 1877, Kuhn grew up in Brooklyn, where he received his education in private schools until he was sixteen. In 1899 he ventured to San Francisco to work as a cartoonist for The Wasp, a political and literary weekly. In 1901 Kuhn traveled to Europe for formal art training at the Académie Colarossi in Paris and later at the Munich Academy. Returning to New York in 1903, he established a studio in Manhattan and helped arrange the 1910 Exhibition of Independent Artists. He was a founding member and officer of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors, the organization responsible for mounting the Armory Show of 1913, and in this role traveled through Europe in 1912 looking at art and helping to select works to be exhibited. Seeing paintings by Cézanne, Derain, Dufy, Pascin, and the cubists affected his style, and throughout the teens and early twenties Kuhn experimented with fauve colors, using blocks of color akin to Cézanne and with cubist space, integrating abstracted forms into the space of the picture plane. Finally, he developed his own painting style characterized by solid, sculptural depictions of single figures.
Kuhn had his first solo show in 1910 at the Madison Gallery in New York, and in 1925 he abandoned most of his theatrical work in favor of painting. From 1930 to 1942 Kuhn was represented by the Marie Harriman Gallery, New York, and he was included in a 1930 Museum of Modern Art exhibition, thus firmly establishing his reputation. His boundless energy stimulated his creative output, which lasted until the year before his death in 1949.