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Hilde Band Kayn [1894-1950]


[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa]

KAYN, Hilde Band [1894–1950]



oil and tempera on board / 11 3/4 inches by 15 3/4 inches

Hilde Kayn is a case study in why the internet shouldn’t be a single source. Hilde Kayn’s on-line biographies are remarkably short and repetitive; and their tidbits of information seem to have been routinely cut and pasted from one page to the next. Her dates, for example, are most often given as 1903-1950, and there is nothing particularly earth-shattering about her death at age forty-seven. But on further investigation, the 1903 birth year doesn’t hold up.

Other genealogical sources almost consistently suggest a birth year closer to 1894-1895. A 1935 passenger list for her arrival at the Port of New York gives her age as forty. Another, from ten years previous, gives her age as thirty. Her petition for naturalization offers a birthdate of 19 September 1894. The smoking gun for “1903” appears to be the Biography & Genealogy Master Index (BGMI), and until that can be consulted, their source remains a mystery. Saying more about this enigmatic artist is difficult because, by some accounts, she was shy, refusing even to do gallery talks as part of her many exhibits.

Like “Stranded”, the majority of Kayn’s paintings represent groups of people in ritualized activity of a sort. Some are as innocent and commonplace as a square dance; others unexplained, sinister. Her skies are dark and characters estranged, even when touching, calling to mind Goya’s late work, the so-called “Black Paintings”, such as “A Pilgrimage to San Isidro”.

“A Pilgrimage to San Isidro” / Francisco Goya / painted 1819-1823

UPDATE [05MAY2019 and 22JULY2020]: It is now fairly certain, from multiple unconnected sources, that Kayn’s biographical information should include the following:

  • She was born 19 September 1894
  • She arrived in early 1926 at the Port of New York with her husband Stephen Kayn.
  • Her naturalization papers filed in New York City indicate Austrian citizenship but birth in Serbia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The birth year is consistently given as 1894.
  • Her maiden name is given as both “Bessy” and “Band”.
  • Her husband was of German birth. He was five years older than his wife, suggesting a birth year of 1889.
  • She died on 29 August 1950 but the disposition of her remains is unknown.
  • Stephen Kayn lived on until 1965. His remains are interred at the Friedhof Wien Heitzing in Vienna — home again.

She was not born in 1903, as is repeated several times in other sources — probably a serial mistake.

UPDATE [22JUNE2023]: Additional biographical information can be found at the National Academy of Design.

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