Kurt Seligmann Biography

Kurt Seligmann




Kurt Leopold Seligmann, painter, printmaker, and designer, was born in Basel, Switzerland on July 20, 1900. In 1919, he began his studies at the École des Beaux-Artes in Geneva and, in 1928, he attended the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence. He moved to Paris in 1929 where he spent a few months at the school of André Lhote and also worked from models at Académie de la Grande Chaumière. While in Paris, he reconnected with friends from Geneva, sculptor Alberto Giacometti and art critic Pierre Couthion. Through Giacometti, Seligmann met Hans Arp and Jean Hélion who admired his biomorphic paintings and invited him to join their group, Abstraction-Création Art Non-Figuratif. The founders of the movement included Jean Arp, Theo van Doesburg, Albert Gleizes, Jean Hélion, Augusta Herbin, Frantisek Kupka, Georges Vantongerloo and Georges Valmier.

Seligmann created his first surrealist work in etching in 1930. In 1933, Chroniques du Jour in Paris published a portfolio of fifteen of his etchings to accompany Protubérances cardiaques by Anatole Jakovsky and the following year published a second portfolio of fifteen etchings,  Vagabondages héraldiques with an essay by Pierre Courthion. In 1934, Seligmann was accepted as a formal member of the Surrealist group which included Jacques Hérold, Óscar Dominguez, Richard Oelze and Hans Bellmer.

At the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, Seligmann was the first Paris-based Surrealist to relocate to New York and he worked with Alfred Barr in facilitating the immigration of European artists and writers fleeing the Nazis. Beginning in 1940, he lived at the Beaux Arts Building at Fortieth Street in Manhattan, and later acquired a farm in the hamlet of Sugar Loaf, in Orange County, New York. In 1941, he met Peggy Guggenheim and entered her realm of influence. Seligmann befriended many American artists and became a close friend of the art historian, Meyer Shapiro. In 1944, with Schapiro as author, he produced a limited edition set of six etchings illustrating The Myth of Oedipus, considered one of the greatest works of Surrealist printmaking. As the Surrealists’ expert on magic, he published a study on magic, the occult, and popular folklore entitled The Mirror of Magic (Pantheon Books, 1948).

Seligmann frequently contributed to VVV magazine (1942-1944), which was André Breton’s official publication in America during the Surrealists’ exile. In 1943, Breton expelled Seligmann from the Surrealists after a verbal conflict over the meaning of the Tarot.

Besides begin a painter, printmaker, and author, Kurt Seligmann was also a set and costume designer, creating costumes and scenery for Harry Holm and George Balanchine. He taught printmaking and was an instructor at the New School for Social Research, Briarcliff Junior College, and Brooklyn College in New York. He was a mentor to Robert Motherwell and Nell Blaine.

Seligmann’s work was exhibited internationally and is represented in the collections of the Baltimore Museum; the Kunstmuseum, Bern; the Brooklyn Museum; the Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge; the Art Institute of Chicago; the MCA, Chicago; the Cleveland Museum of Art; the Israel Museum, Jerusalem; the British Museum, London; the Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Bibliotheque nationale, Paris; the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence; and the McNay, San Antonio.

Kurt Seligmann died at his farm in Sugar Loaf, New York from an accidentally self-inflicted gunshot wound on 2 January 1962.

For an extensive biography of Kurt Seligmann, visit the Weinstein Gallery.