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National Gallery of Art showcases Kainen collection

Willem de Kooning’s “Untitled,” 1976, an oil on newspaper mounted to canvas. (National Gallery of Art, Washington)

The last in a series of exhibitions highlighting the major gifts given to the National Gallery of Art by Ruth Cole Kainen in 2012 has opened, featuring selections in modern American prints and drawings, and a remarkable collection of names — including Childe Hassam, Louise Nevelson and Adolph Gottlieb.

Kainen was married to Jacob Kainen, a painter who came to Washington to head up the Division of Graphic Arts at the Smithsonian, now known as the National Museum of American History’s Kenneth E. Behring Center.

Together the couple amassed an enviable collection of works of celebrated and less well-known artists, many of whom were friends and colleagues. Here’s a look at the new show by the numbers:


Span of years Ruth Cole Kainen gave works to the National Gallery of Art, from 1974-2012.


Number of paintings, prints and drawings donated by Ruth and Jacob Kainen, together and individually before her final bequest of May 2012. She died in 2009.

Wanda Gág’s “Spring in the Garden (Spring II),” 1927, a lithograph in black on wove paper. (National Gallery of Art, Washington)

Number of European and American works in Ruth Cole Kainen’s final bequest to the National Gallery. They included 10 paintings, 39 watercolors and 732 etchings, engravings, woodcuts, lithographs and illustrated books.


Number of centuries represented in works in the final bequest of Ruth Cole Kainen, spanning 1531 to the 1980s.


Total number of works in the current exhibit, “Modern American Prints and Drawings from the Kainen Collection.”


Different exhibitions mounted to showcase the work in her final bequest in the last 12 months at the National Gallery. The first two were “Northern Mannerist Prints,” which hung Sept. 1, 2013-Jan.5, and “Modern German Prints and Drawings,” which ran from Feb. 23 to June 29.


Works in the show from 1925-31 by Stuart Davis, who worked with Jacob Kainen for the Works Progress Administration.


Works in the exhibit by Louis Lozowick, the most represented artist in the show, who was praised for his use of light in lithographs.


Years that “Millions of Cats,” an illustrated children’s book by Wanda Gág, has been continuously in print, the longest of any children’s book. A lithograph by Gág, the 1927 “Spring in the Garden (Spring II)” is part of the show.

Jacob Kainen’s “Sun in the Hills,” 1951, a woodcut and color stencil on wove paper. (National Gallery of Art, Washington )

Number of works in the show each from David Smith, Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky and Max Weber.


Number of works by Mark Rothko in the Kainen donations to the National Gallery of Art. Although he was a friend and contemporary of Jacob Kainen, Rothko’s works on paper were donated to the Smithsonian, where Kainen was curator of the Division of Graphic Arts from 1942 to 1970.


Pages of a 1976 New York Times on which Willem de Kooning completed his “Untitled” oil painting, which was then mounted to canvas and is part of the exhibit.


The year that Ruth Cole Kainen bought her husband an untitled 1951 Jackson Pollock to celebrate their wedding that year. The drip painting, considered one of Pollock’s finest on paper, is on display.


The year of the most recent piece in the show, an abstract color aquatint by Dorothea Tanning titled “At These Rites.” Tanning, who died in 2012 at age 101, was married for 30 years to Max Ernst.

Modern American Prints and Drawings from the Kainen Collection continues through Feb. 1 at the National Gallery of Art, 6th and Constitution Avenue NW. Call 202-737-4215 or visit

Catlin is a freelance writer.



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