Kimon Nicolaides

Kimon Nicolaides

Greek / American
1891 - 1938


Kimon Nicolaides was born in Washington, D.C. in 1891. He grew up in an environment with objects traded by his father from countries of the East, which from an early age triggered his original interest in art. Moving to New York, he found various temporary jobs, such as framing, journalism, and also working as an extra in motion pictures. His persistent preoccupation and passion for painting convinced his father to finance his studies at the Art Students League of New York from 1914 to 1916. There, he studied under George Bridgman and John Sloan and socialized with artists such as the couple Wilhelmina Weber Furlong and Thomas Furlong. During World War I, Nicolaides voluntarily served in France for more than a year, becoming one of the first American camouflage artists in the army participating in military staff concealment operations, in the same unit as Barry Faulkner, Sherry Edmundson Fry, Abraham Rattner and others. In addition, one of his tasks was to examine geographical contour maps that depicted the natural terrain with curved outlines. His interaction with the maps helped him deepen the study and utility of contour in drawing and contributed to the development of his own drawing methodology, which he utilized and presented at a later stage. After completing his military service and after a few years living and working in Paris, he held his first solo exhibition at the Bernheim-Jeune gallery in 1922. The following year, he settled in New York and held an exhibition at the Whitney Studio Club (today Whitney Museum of American Art). For the following 15 years he dedicated his life to drawing while teaching at the Art Students League of New York. Without frequently exhibiting his creations, he succeeded in gaining a reputation as a painter and an art teacher. Art critics of the time praised the breadth of his work, the originality of his technique and his thematic and mental quests for new aesthetic experiences. At the same time, given that his desire to paint was as fundamental as his urge to communicate his knowledge, a large number of students chose to take his class because of his immediacy and the high level of his educational approach. In 1932, he participated in the exhibition Murals by American Painters and Photographers at the MoMA in New York. He died in 1938 at the age of 47, before finishing his book The Natural Way to Draw (1941), in which he recorded the teaching system he had formulated during the previous years. The book consists of 64 exercises intended to be applied over the course of one year, focusing on basic design concepts such as contour drawing, gesture drawing, tonal drawing and memory-based drawing. Mamie Harmon was the one to complete the book until its publication. She was his student at New Hampshire during the summers of 1935 and 1936, and had worked with him on the manuscript in the past. Harmon also helped organize an exhibition in his memory at the G. R. D. Studio in New York in 1939, where Nicolaides served as an artistic director. His works can be found at the Whitney Museum of American Art.