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Katharine Kuh papers

Call Number: YCAL MSS 15

Scope and Contents

The Katharine Kuh Papers contain correspondence and pieces of art sent to Katharine Kuh as greeting cards by artists whose works she showed in her gallery and at the Art Institute of Chicago.

The papers are arranged alphabetically in thirty-two folders. Letters, notes, envelopes with marginalia, and decorative greeting cards are interfiled as correspondence.

The correspondence contains dialogue between Katharine Kuh and American artists like Mark Tobey, Alexander Calder, Joseph Cornell, Man Ray, and Len Lye and such European contemporaries as Marcel Duchamp, Jean Dubuffet, Jean Hélion, and Fernand Léger. The letters contain frequent references to the ideological similarities and differences of their work and illuminate the role that Katharine Kuh played as interpreter and champion of abstract art in the United States.

Most of the letters contain material that was incorporated into her books, especially The Artist's Voice (1962). Naum Gabo (October 22, 1961) and Saul Steinberg (November 9, 1961), for example, speak about the conflict between the visual and verbal expression of an idea. They give Kuh explicit instructions on how to represent their ideas in print. In a November 9, 1961, letter Mark Tobey explains that artists either talk about their art grudgingly or not at all and that he would not have done so for anyone but Katharine Kuh. Although this respect is characteristic of the artists' letters, Kuh herself, in a reply to Abraham Rattner (Apr 13, 1956), calls herself an "art entrepreneur" who is, in reality, merely a frustrated artist.

Several artists, including Jack Levine and Pavel Tchelitchew, write about specific works of art and what inspired them to create particular images. Marcel Duchamp in a February 23, 1949, letter answers a series of questions about Jacques Villon for a catalog of an exhibition of the Arensberg Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago and explains the triple pun in his pseudonym "Rrose Sélavy." Alexander Calder tells how to repair some of his pieces and, in a May 1, 1947, letter relates a humorous incident in which a sculpture that had been tampered with later "attacked" someone.

Other interesting letters include one to Katharine from a friend of Le Corbusier (June 5, 1941) asking her to give prominence to Le Corbusier's work in her gallery because of the artist's "difficult economic situation." The correspondence of art patrons Katherine Dreier and Walter C. Arensberg discusses modern art from a collector's point of view. There is also a note of appreciation from Eleanor Roosevelt and a letter from Thornton Wilder about the Virgin Islands.

Almost all of the original art works are signed by the artists and many are dated. Some bear evidence of having been displayed. The highlights include nine paintings done jointly by George and Juliet Kepes, seven black- and-white photographs by André Kertész, five prints by Boris Margo, two drawings by Carlos Merida, and some of Joseph Cornell's collages. Another collage, dated 1938, is filed with the Merida correspondence, was made and signed by Carlos Merida, Julio de Diego, Alexander Archipenko, and Katharine Kuh. Len Lye's letters take the form of drawings in ink and magic marker, and Alexander Calder addressed an envelope to Kuh in mirror-image writing. There is also a signed lithograph by Léger in a copy of Tristan Teara's La face intérieure.


  • 1937-1964 (inclusive)


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The Katharine Kuh Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Katharine Kuh, 1964.


0.75 Linear Feet (2 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers contain correspondence and art on greeting cards by artists whose works she exhibited.


Katharine Kuh, art historian, curator, author, and critic of twentieth- century art, was born in St. Louis on July 15, 1904. She was educated at Vassar College (A.B. 1925) and the University of Chicago (A.M. 1928).

From 1935 until 1942 she owned and directed The Katharine Kuh Gallery in Chicago and also served as visiting professor of art at the University School of Fine Arts in San Miguel, Guanajuato, Mexico. In 1943 Katharine went to the Art Institute of Chicago as curator, Gallery of Art Interpretation. Until 1959 she was also curator of modern painting and sculpture and edited the Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago from 1943 to 1953. Following her departure from the Institute, she became art editor for Saturday Review (1959-72), World Magazine (1972-73), and Saturday Review Magazine (1973-77).

During her career, Katharine Kuh wrote many books. They include Art Has Many Faces (1951), which was inspired partly by her experience in preparing an advisory report on the fate of Alaskan totem poles for the Office of Indian Affairs in 1946, The Artist's Voice (1962), and Break Up: The Core of Modern Art (1965). She also wrote a catalog of Fernand Léger's work, Léger (1953), and the catalog for a retrospective exhibition, 100 Artists, 100 Years: Alumni of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1979).

Katharine Kuh married George E. Kuh in 1930 and was divorced in 1936. See also: Who's Who of American Women, Vol. I, p. 722.

Guide to the Katharine Kuh Papers
Under Revision
by Ellen Zak Danforth
August 1987
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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