Kate Steinitz was a German-American artist and art historian affiliated with the European Bauhaus and Dadaist movements in the early 20th century. She is best known for her collaborative work with the artist Kurt Schwitters, and, in later life, her scholarship on Leonardo da Vinci.
Kate (at first called Käte or Käthe) Traumann was born into an upper-middle-class family in Beuthen, Upper Silesia (now Bytom, Poland). In 1899, her father, Judge Arnold Traumann, was transferred to Berlin, where she was educated. She attending drawing classes with Käthe Kollwitz and later the “Malschule für Frauen” (Women’s Painting School) run by the artist Lovis Corinth. She also attended the Academie und Studienateliers fuer Malerei und Plastik (connected with the Berlin Secession art association), and at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière and the Sorbonne in Paris.
In 1913, after returning from a study visit in Paris, she married a physician, Dr. Ernst Steinitz. With the outbreak of war in 1914, her husband joined the army as a military physician. In 1917, he was called to the front, and in 1918 the Steinitz family, which now included daughters Ilse and Lotti, relocated to Hanover. A third daughter, Beate, was born in 1920.
While in Hanover, Steinitz painted portraits of her daughters. Other favored subjects for her drawings and paintings included dancers, entertainers, and other performers. She became highly involved in the local art scene, including the burgeoning Dada movement.
Steinitz collaborated with her friend, the artist Kurt Schwitters on several projects, including children’s books, opera librettos, books, and festivals. Together with Theo van Doesburg, Schwitters and Steinitz produced several children’s fairy-tale books that featured unusual typography, including Hahnepeter (Peter the Rooster, 1924), Die Märchen vom Paradies (The Fairy Tales of Paradise, 1924–25), and Die Scheuche (The Scarecrow, 1925). For the publication of their work, the artists founded their own publishing house, which they called APOSS, an acronym that stood for “A=active; P=paradox; OS=oppose sentimentality; S=sensitive.”
Steinitz also began to write for the newspaper the Hannoverscher Kurier, and in various journals of the Berlin publisher Ullstein Verlag, using her own name as well as under the pseudonyms “Annette Nobody” and “Mia Meyer.”
In 1936, the Steinitz family immigrated to New York City to escape Nazi persecution, after having been told by government authorities that she could no longer write for German publications. While in New York Steinitz continued to paint, and to augment the family’s income by doing freelance commercial art work and research assignments.
In 1941, her youngest daughter, Beate died in Israel. This was followed by the death of her husband in February 1942. In August 1942, Steinitz moved to San Francisco, California to be closer to her daughter Ilse. In 1944, she became an American citizen. In 1945 she relocated to Los Angeles and took a position as the librarian of the Leonardo da Vinci collection owned Dr. Elmer Belt, who had been her urologist. The da Vinci collection was donated to the University of California Los Angeles in 1961, Steinitz was named as honorary curator of the Elmer Belt Library of Vinciana, by Librarian Lawrence Clark Powell and Chancellor Franklin D. Murphy.
In 1963, she published a book on Kurt Schwitters in German, with an English edition being published in 1968. In 1969, she was invited to deliver the Lettura Vinciana in Vinci, Italy, a great honor for contributors to the field of da Vinci scholarship. In addition, on August 2, 1969, an exhibition of the Kate Steinitz Collection and of her work opened at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Steinitz died on April 7, 1975, Los Angeles.
In 1994, a retrospective of her work was held at Severin Wunderman Museum, a private museum in Irvine, California which existed from 1985-1995.
In 1999, Steinitz’s daughter, Ilse Berg, donated a selection of her mother’s personal papers to the Archives of American Art. Additional papers relating to her work with Schwitters are held by the National Gallery of Art Library in Washington, D.C.