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Jacob Kainen Portrait

Jacob Kainen

Waterbury, Connecticut 1909

Washington, District of Columbia 2001

Active in:

  • Washington, District of Columbia
  • Chevy Chase, Maryland
  • New York, New York

Photo Caption:
Jacob Kainen, Self Portrait, ca. 1942, brush and ink on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum,Gift of Sara L. Lepman 1981.115.


Printmaker who worked in woodcut, silk screen, and other media; his style gradually evolved from the social realism of the 1930s to more abstract portraits in the 1950s and later.

Charles Sullivan, ed American Beauties: Women in Art and Literature (New York: Henry N. Abrams, Inc., in association with National Museum of American Art, 1993)

Additional Biographies

Luce Artist Biography

Jacob Kainen moved to New York at a young age and began studying drawing at the Art Students League, the Pratt Institute School of Art, and the New York University School of Architecture. In the 1930s, he began his career as a social realist painter because of his strong interest in conveying the human experience. He later abandoned this style in favor of abstract expressionism, and became friends with fellow painter Arshile Gorky. In 1942, Kainen joined the Smithsonian as an aide with the Division of Graphic Arts at the U.S. National Museum (now the National Museum of American History) and by 1946 was appointed curator. Later, in 1966, he served as a curator of graphic arts at the Smithsonian's National Collection of Fine Arts (now the American Art Museum), where he expanded the collection of modern American prints and drawings. Until his retirement from the Smithsonian in 1970, Kainen spent his days researching at the Museum and dedicated his evenings to studio work.