Karin van Leyden

Born in: 1906 Charlottenburg - Germany Died in: 1977 Lugano - Switzerland

Elisabeth Frieda Johanna Erna Kluth was born on the 23rd July 1906 in Charlottenburg, not far from Berlin, Germany. She enrolled in the Kolnerwerkschule in Cologne in 1925 where she was taught by Richard Seewald and Johan Thorn Prikker. At the end of a school trip to Ascona in 1927 Karin refused to return home. Selling her belongings in order to be able to stay Karin made her first sale, some of her gouaches, to Baron von der Heydt.

Read more about Karin van Leyden

Karin van Leyden

Elisabeth Frieda Johanna Erna Kluth was born on the 23rd July 1906 in Charlottenburg, not far from Berlin, Germany. She enrolled in the Kolnerwerkschule in Cologne in 1925 where she was taught by Richard Seewald and Johan Thorn Prikker. At the end of a school trip to Ascona in 1927 Karin refused to return home. Selling her belongings in order to be able to stay Karin made her first sale, some of her gouaches, to Baron von der Heydt.

Karin met the Dutch artist Ernst Leyden for the first time in Ascona, family legend has it that it was love at first sight. Ernst was handsome, newly returned from the Orient and already making a name for himself as a talented artist. He was painting on a bridge when the beautiful young Karin stopped to admire his work.

Karin and Ernst travelled to Italy painting together. Karin studied Fresco Techniques at the FlorenceAcademy under professor Chigi and during this period, finally worked up the courage to use her cherished tubes of oil paint and eventually participated in a Group exhibit in Cologne in 1928.

The couple travelled together to Egypt, Syria and the Lebanon meeting Claude Schaeffer, Dolf Grelinger, Unger, Count Uberto Strozzi, Marcel Raval and Paul Haesaerts.

They also spent time at Ernst’s Paris studio and his house on the lake in Loosdrecht, Holland. With Ernst, Karin met many of her contemporaries, Marc Chagall, Jules Pascin, Ossip Zadkine and Francis Picabia. She exhibited at the Galerie Georges Bernheim in 1929 with a preface to the catalogue written by Marcel Raval.

Karin and Ernst were married in June 1932. Later that year, after their son Ragnar was born, the young family moved to Rio do Milho in Portugal. Possibly due to the constant interruptions caused by her small son, this period saw Karin return to drawing and saw the execution of some truly wonderful, detailed landscapes, she also wrote an illustrated book.

Ernst had given up his studio in Paris in 1932 but the Leydens returned frequently to Loosdrecht to keep abreast of events and organise exhibits in Amsterdam, Utrecht and Brussels.

In 1936 Karin was commissioned to paint a series of murals for Sir Thomas Stafford Bazley at HatheropCastle. In 1937 one of Karin’s oils was purchased by the Musée du Jeu de Paume, in Paris. Karin went unaccompanied to New York to organise her first one-man show at the Marie Sterner Galleries in 1938. The Leydens moved to the United   States at the outbreak of the second world war and sometime between 1940 and 1941 they became the “van Leydens”. Armed only with their good looks, social skills, European reputations and their talent they set about making a life for themselves in the United States. The early years saw Karin continuing with her murals which were moving from the solid earthiness of Hatherop to a more surreal style. She also undertook commercial work in advertising .

As well as Murals Karin also made many portraits: fashionable oils of “Parisiennes” for exhibits ans portraits and silverpoints of New   York high society ladies.

The expiration of their visas required crossing a United States border. In 1941 Ernst had to borrow money from one of his wealthy patrons to take the family on an extended camping trip to Mexico. Sharing expenses with the architect Eric Mendelsohn they stopped off to see Frank Lloyd Wright, Max Ernst and Henry Miller on the way.

Their journey took them through Southern California which they liked so much that they decided to abandon New York for a little house in Santa Monica canyon. It was time for them to take Hollywood by storm.

After December 7th 1941 property became remarkably cheap in California. Karin and Ernst immediately bought a ranch with a big barn in Brentwood, LA.

To decorate their new home the couple developed a process for covering simple plywood furniture and walls with painted glass tiles. This became a new medium for Karin’s mural art. Hollywood interior decorators commissioned murals for fashionable residences, hotels and restaurants.

The vast Brentwood barn which had attracted them in the first place was the required space for such huge projects. The work load was heavy but little by little they made a name for themselves to the point where stars like Tyrone Power and Rita Hayworth had their homes decorated with large Karin van Leyden murals.

Financially afloat by 1947, Karin and Ernst seek fresh inspiration through an extended stay in Mexico. The rental of a house in San Miguel de Allende is the beginning of a voage of discovery, guided towards the Mayan culture and Aztec monuments by her friends Diego Rivera, Orozco and Rufino Tamayo. They make repeated trips into the depths of Mexico until 1952.

Karin’s style is definitively marked .

Also in 1947 Karin and Ernst return for the first time to war-torn Europe. The priority is finding family, Ernst’s sister survived a german concentration camp, Karin’s parents survived the bombardment of Cologne. The Loosdrecht house has been looted.

The family acquires american citizenship in 1949

In 1957 the couple move definitively to Europe and divided their time between a studio on Rue de Seine in Paris, France and a house in Venice, Italy. Karin is still developing her Mexican theme but using it on Italian subjects.

Unhappy with the noisy and smelly Paris studio Ernst decides to buy a derelict farmhouse outside Paris called l’Enclos sur Lieutel. The extensive conversions take three years during which time the couple live mainly in Venice and New York.

Once finished, L’Enclos sur Lieutel proves too isolated for Karin, who can only paint landscapes there: she prefers Italy, its life and exuberance. Ernst thrives on the tranquility of l’Enclos sur Lieutel. After 30 years of creative intimacy there is a parting of the ways.

Rejecting l’Enclos sur Lieutel, Karin decides to live with her sister Charlotte in Lugano Switzerland. Experimenting with abstraction since 1953, she expresses herself with oil on canvas and then collage. A series of small collages in 1966, painted on cotton, are particularly remarkable and reminiscent of Morandi.

Karin van Leyden, formerly Karin Leyden and originally Elisabeth Kluth signed her work Karin, Corina, Carina even Casarina. She died in Lugano in June 1977.

Exhibitions

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Musea

Museum collection which contain original work by Karin:

Musée du Jeu de Paume, Paris

Museu d’Arte Contemporaneo, Lisbon

Museu d’Arte Contemporaneo, Oporto

StedelijkMuseum, Amsterdam