Skip to main content

Karl Knaths papers, 1890-1973, bulk 1922-1971

More Information

Judy Ng
Scope and Contents note
The papers of cubist painter Karl Knaths measure 8.9 linear feet and date from 1890 to 1973, with the bulk of the materials dating from 1922 to 1971. The collection includes biographical material, personal and professional correspondence, four diaries, 22 notebooks and notes on theoretical color and compositional approaches to painting, published and draft copies of essays on art, miscellaneous printed material, and 132 sketchbooks and additional artwork.
Biographical material consists of a copy of Knaths's curriculum vitae, a press release, and miscellaneous personal financial records.
Correspondence in the collection documents Knaths's relationships with family, friends, and business associates after his move to Provincetown, Massachusetts in 1919. Notable correspondents include Duncan and Marjorie Phillips, artist Joseph Meierhans, and the gallery Paul Rosenberg and Co.
The papers include three of Knaths's personal diaries (1916-1919, 1948) and a diary written by F.A. Mehler in 1890. Additional writings include lecture notes from classes that Knaths both attended and taught; 22 notebooks that explore his interest in articulating a color and compositional theory of painting; loose notes on various artists, projects, and facets of painting; several of his completed essays on art, including "Decorative Material" and "Pictorial Analysis;" and a draft of his unpublished manuscript "Ornament and Glory." Writings by others include 15 lecture transcripts from courses taught by Hans Hofmann during the 1930s, Knaths's translations of essays by Piet Mondrian, Kazimir Malevitch, and Carl Einstein, and a biographical essay on Karl Knaths by Paul Mocsanyi.
Printed materials in the collection include clippings, exhibition catalogs, and programs related to Knaths's one-man exhibitions and group shows, and the books Syracuse University Centennial Collection of Art (1970) and Karl Knaths: Five Decades of Painting (1973).
The bulk of the collection consists of 132 sketchbooks and additional artwork. Sketchbooks date from the 1920s to the 1970s and document Knaths's early figurative and landscape studies and later explorations of cubist style and compositional experiments with color, line, and form. Additional artwork includes numerous color charts and diagrams that Knaths kept to inform his painting color palette; outlines of compositional works on both graphed and regular paper; loose pencil sketches and pastels of figures, landscapes, and compositional experiments; and finished paintings and prints.
In 1962, Karl Knaths lent the Archives of American Art a sketchbook and a selection of papers for microfilming. Upon Knath's death in 1972, these papers, excluding the sketchbook, along with additional materials, were willed to the Archives. His executor, Kenneth Desmarais, donated additional material from Knaths's estate in 1977 and 1980.
Separated Materials
The Archives of American Art also holds material lent for microfilming (reel D81) including one sketchbook. Lent materials were returned to the lender and are not described in the collection container inventory.
Related Archival Materials note
The Archives of American Art holds one oral history interview with Karl Knaths conducted by Dorothy Seckler in 1962; a transcript of a 1968 lecture delivered by Knaths at the Provincetown Art Association in Provincetown, Massachusetts; and a 1955 video recording documenting Knaths's Cape Cod influenced artwork, directed by Jack Calderwood.
Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.
Processing Information
Portions of the collection received a preliminary level of processing for microfilming on reels D81, 433-437, 535, 3090, and 2336-2339; these reels are no longer in circulation. All previously filmed and unfilmed accessions were merged, fully processed, arranged, and described by Judy Ng and digitized in 2012 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.