Jacob Kainen (American, 1909–2001) was a painter, printmaker, journalist, scholar, collector, and curator. Kainen was born to Russian immigrants in Waterbury, Connecticut on December 7, 1909. His parents encouraged Kainen to pursue his artistic interests. In 1918, Kainen and his family moved to the Bronx. Kainen studied at the Art Students League and Pratt Institute. However, Kainen was a rebellious and impatient student and was expelled from Pratt three weeks before graduation in 1930.
Soon after, Kainen joined the John Reed Club and met Diego Rivera, Henry Glintenkamp, George Ault, and Stuart Davis. In 1934, he exhibited at the American Artists School. The artist was also a contributor to Art Front, the journal of the Artist's Union. In 1940, Kainen had his first solo exhibition mounted at the A.C.A. gallery. In 1942, he was hired as an aide in the Division of Graphic Arts at the U.S. National Museum (now the National Museum of American History) in Washington D.C. Two years later, he was appointed curator of the Division of Graphic Arts. Kainen also worked as a curator of prints and drawings for 6 years at the National Collection of Fine Arts (now the Smithsonian American Art Museum). He retired from that position in 1970.
In 1976, Jacob Kainen: Prints, A Retrospective was mounted at the National Collection of Fine Arts. The catalogue included 147 original prints. Jacob and his wife Ruth collected paintings, drawings, and prints from the 15th to 20th century and made gifts of the collection to the National Gallery. In September 1985, the National Gallery mounted the exhibition German Expressionist Prints from the Collection of Ruth and Jacob Kainen.
Jacob Kainen died March 19, 2001 in Chevy Chase, Maryland at the age of 92. Jacob Kainen's work can be found in the collections of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, Art Institute of Chicago, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the National Gallery, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art, Bezalel National Museum in Jerusalem, and the British Museum in London.