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Hilde Kayn [1894-1950]

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

KAYN, Hilde B. (1894–1950)

“Stranded”

1945

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

Hilde Kayn is a case study in why the internet shouldn’t be the only 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 some sort of ritualized activity. Some are as innocent and commonplace as a square dance; others more sinister and unexplained. But her skies are dark and characters estranged, calling to mind Goya’s late work, the so-called “Black Paintings”.

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

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

  • 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 in 1950 but the disposition of her remains is unknown.
  • Stephen Kayn lived on until 1965. His remains are interred at the Friedhof Heitzing in Vienna.

She was not born in 1903, as is repeated several times.


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