John Kane (1860-1934)

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John Kane was an American painter of Naïve art. Kane was born to Irish parents in West Calder, Scotland. When Kane was still young his father died. Kane left school to work in shale mines for a paraffin company. Kane often experimented with paraffin and made molds out of the hot, malleable material.

Kane, Child Seated on Wall

Child Seated on Wall

Kane, Balmoral Castle

Balmoral Castle

When Kane was nineteen he immigrated to the United States to live with his brother near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Kane worked very physically demanding jobs as the Industrial Revolution was reaching its peak in the United States. Kane’s jobs included working for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, working for the steel industry at the National Tube Company and working the coke ovens for Henry Clay Frick. Kane lived a nomadic life working in coalmines in Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and Western Pennsylvania.

Kane, Farm Scene with Three Horses

Farm Scene with Three Horses

In 1891 Kane was in a railroad accident, which severed his left leg. Kane was given an artificial limb, but could no longer do such rigorous work. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad continued to employ Kane as a watchman, a job that Kane kept for several years.

Kane, Self-Portrait, 1929

Self-Portrait, 1929

Kane eventually left his job as a watchman to paint steel railroad cars at the Pressed Steel Car Company. Kane enjoyed painting and started picking up jobs as a house painter and making paintings on old boards that he would find for free. For three years, Kane submitted his paintings to an art contest sponsored by the Carnegie Museum of Art. After two years of rejection, one of Kane’s paintings was finally accepted into the show. Kane’s unexpected success at the age of sixty-seven, was well publicized by the local and regional media. Kane finally received recognition for his work and he reconciled his relationship with his wife, who he had been separated from for many years.

Kane, Girl with Doll Carriage

Girl with Doll Carriage

Kane was the first self-taught American painter in the 20th century to exhibit in a museum. Kane triumphed the odds of an untrained artist making his way to the top of the art scene. Kane had his first solo show in 1931 at the age of seventy-one. Kane’s work is now in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Kane is one of the first outsider artists in Modern American Art. Do you think you own a painting by John Kane? Contact us. We are the John Kane experts.