Karl Knaths was born in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, in 1891. He is recognized as a painter with a very unique and individual interpretation of Cubism. He spent his childhood in the Midwest, and in 1912, he moved to Chicago, where he studied at the School of the Art Institute for four years. In 1913, he saw the Chicago exhibition of the Armory Show and was immediately drawn to the modernist work coming from Paris, and especially to the work of Paul Cézanne.
Knaths moved to Provincetown, Massachusetts in 1919. His earliest work was clearly influenced by the Impressionists. However, after coming in contact with many of the local artists, and by studying the representation of European art in various books and magazines, Knaths became deeply influenced by Cubism. By the end of the1920s, he had developed a very personal approach to this style, basing his abstract, but still recognizable compositions on seascapes and still life subjects.
During the 1930s, Knaths also developed a complex theoretical basis for his painting. He began to create his paintings by following strict rules of composition and color, inspired by the ideas of such artists as Piet Mondrian and Wassily Kandinsky. Despite Knath's innovative endeavor, he worked in relative isolation for much of his career, making only occasional trips to New York or Boston, but never travelled to Europe.
Knaths died in Provincetown in 1971. His paintings can be found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, as well as at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and many more.