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Charles M. Kurtz papers, 1843-1990, bulk, 1884-1909

Biographical Note

Charles M. Kurtz's name is known to many scholars and students of American art history. To some he is important for his critical writings, others are interested in his management of exhibitions for the Art Union and the American Art Association. Many are aware of him because of his publication of National Academy Notes, which continued for nine years. Still others are familiar with Kurtz in his role as an art administrator for late 19th century art exhibitions like those at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the St. Louis Fair, or for his accomplishments as the first director of the Albright Gallery in Buffalo, New York. Sometimes researchers have become familiar with his name through the sale catalogue for his considerable collection, which was sold at auction after his death in 1909. His career, which encompassed the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth century, touched on virtually every aspect of art in America during that period.
Born in 1853 to Davis Brook Kurtz (1826-1906), an attorney, and Julia Wilder, Charles Kurtz enjoyed a genteel upbringing. The Kurtz family originated in Darmstadt, Germany, and migrated to America in the eighteenth century. D.B. Kurtz, a leading member of the Lawrence County bar, was also a vice-president of the National Bank of Lawrence County, Pennsylvania. As a local representative of many important railroad and business interests, he accumulated assets estimated at one million dollars by the time of his death, just three years before that of his son, Charles, the eldest of his five children. Unlike his brothers Louis, who also became an attorney, and Edward, a professor at Columbia University, Charles eschewed a professional career to enter the art world, as did his sisters Emily, an artist, and Catherine, a musician.
After his graduation from Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania, Kurtz visited the Centennial Exposition, held in 1876 in Philadelphia, before coming to New York to study art at the National Academy of Design. These two activities foreshadowed the direction that his career would eventually take. As the chronology indicates, his early efforts revolve around writing for a variety of publications, most notably, his own National Academy Notes. In 1881 he took what was to be the first of many trips abroad to survey the art scene in Europe. Later in his career, his fascination with foreign art and his own entrepeneurial interests led him to become an outspoken opponent of tariffs on imported art.
Kurtz's personal life changed significantly in 1884 when he met Julia Stephenson, a physician's daughter and fledging art student from Harrodsburg, Kentucky. Throughout their courtship and after their marriage the couple was frequently separated. Consequently, they wrote lengthy letters which document not only their personal relationship but also Kurtz's aspirations and activities in the art world.
With his appointment as one of Halsey C. Ives's (1847-1911) chief assistants of the Fine Arts Department of the World's Columbian Exposition in 1891, Charles Kurtz's career achieved international stature. Among the most notable European artists he introduced into this country through circulating exhibitions were the Glasgow School, the Danish School, the Hungarian artist, Mihaly Munkacsy, and the subject of his final exhibition, the Spanish artist, Sorolla.
Throughout his life, Kurtz was plagued by health problems and, in 1899, illness forced him to resign as Assistant Director of Fine Arts for the United States for the Paris Exposition of 1900. Throughout the following decade, his work was increasingly interrupted by ill health. His death in 1909 at the age of 54, while sudden, was not entirely unexpected. However it most certainly cut short a cosmopolitan career that encompassed virtually every aspect of the art world and the pertinent issues of the day.
Kurtz is remembered for his editorial work with the National Academy of Design; as Art Director for the Southern Exposition, 1883-1886, and the St. Louis Exposition, 1894-1899 (where he introduced the Glasgow School of Painting); and as Assistant Chief/Director for the World's Columbian Exposition, the 1900 Paris Exposition, and the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition. He was also director of the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy.
1855
Charles McMeen Kurtz born
1876
receives B.S. degree from Washington and Jefferson College, Washington, Pennsylvania
1876-78
studies at the National Academy of Design, N.Y. with Lemuel Wilmarth and William Morgan; writes a column, "New York Letters," for The Courant published in New Castle, Pennsylvania
1878
edits a small daily paper published during a "National Camp Meeting for the promotion of Holiness" held that summer in New Castle, Pa.; its critical stance resulted in his public denouncement and earned him a reputation as a journalist in western Pennsylvania; receives M.A. from Washington and Jefferson College
1878-79
becomes the local editor of The Guardian of New Castle
1879
publishes The Daily Reporter, a financial success
1881
publishes the first issue of National Academy Notes; travels in Europe, spending time in England, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and France (Paris)
1881-82
prepares Illustrated Notes for Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition
1882
writes "Art Notes" in The New York Tribune and resigns Dec. 23rd
1882-83
accepts position to write for Music and Drama, a new daily paper
1883
becomes the general manager of the American Art Union; exhibits a large collection of Art Union paintings in Buffalo, N.Y. and Louisville, Ky., where they became part of the Southern Exposition's first great art display
1883-86
accepts offer to become Director of the Art Department, Southern Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky
1884
edits Art Union magazine until December; applies for position to head the Art Department of the New Orleans World's Fair in September
1884-86
accepts a position offered by the American Art Association; terminates uncongenial relationship in March, 1886
1885
writes catalogues for the sale of the George Seney Collection and for the Watts exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; October 1, marries Julia Stephenson (1861-1931), daughter of Dr. A. T. Stephenson of Harrodsburg, Kentucky; they had two daughters who survived them: Julia Wilder Kurtz (1889-1977), and Isabella Starkweather Kurtz (1901-1991); another daughter, Elizabeth Stephenson Kurtz (1886-1897), predeceased them
1886
terminates employment with the Art Association; daughter, Elizabeth Stephenson Kurtz, born
1886-87
manages the circulation of Mihaly Munkacsy's Christ Before Pilot for Charles Sedelmeyer to American venues: New York, Boston, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Saint Paul, Nashville, Phildelphia, Indianapolis; tour generates $90,000 in ticket receipts
1889-91
February 24, appointed art critic ("Art Notes") and book reviewer for New York Daily Star; later literary and art editor of the Sunday Star
1890
writes for the Sunday edition The Press, a New York paper
1891
writes for The World; art editor for The New York Recorder; contributes to the New York Truth
1891-93
contributes to Chicago Evening Post ; writes artist biographies for The Chicago Graphic, a regional magazine; appointed Assistant Chief of the Department of Fine Arts of the World's Columbian Exposition
1894
contributes column, "Art at the Exposition" to St. Louis Life
1895
tours Denmark, Scotland, and France during the summer on behalf of the St. Louis Exposition
1894-99
appointed Director of the Art Department of the St. Louis Annual Exposition
1896
elected member of The Japan Society, London
1897
daughter, Elizabeth (Daisy), dies
1898
receives a diploma and medal "in recognition of valuable services in connection with the Fine Arts Exhibit" from the directors of the Trans-Mississippi International Exposition, Omaha
1899
appointed Assistant Director of Fine Arts for the United States Commission to the Paris Exposition of 1900; resigned in July due to ill health
1901-04
appointed Assistant Chief of the Department of Art of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, August
1901
daughter, Isabella Starkweather Kurtz, born
1902
receives honorary Ph.D from Washington and Jefferson College "in recognition of distinguished ability and services as an art critic and writer"
1905
receives the cross of the Order of Merit from Prince Ferdinand of Bulgaria; appointed Director, Buffalo Fine Arts Academy and Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, in January; exhibits Glasgow paintings at Albright Art Gallery from November until the following April
1906
writes Academy Notes, a bulletin pubished by the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy and the Albright Art Gallery; father, D.B. Kurtz, dies in Newcastle, Pennsylvania
1907
accused of importing German pictures free of duty for exhibition purposes and then selling some for profit
1908
Honorary Doctor of Philosophy degree conferred by Washington and Jefferson College
1909
Charles M. Kurtz dies in Buffalo, New York on March 21
1910
Sale of the private collection of Charles M. Kurtz at auction, Fifth Avenue Art Galleries, February 24-25
1931
Widow, Julia Stephenson Kurtz dies October 30
1977
Daughter, Julia Wilder Kurtz, dies
1991
Daughter, Isabel Starkweather Kurtz, dies in Buffalo, N.Y.; remaining Charles M. Kurtz Papers bequeathed to the Archives of American Art and the National Academy of Design, New York