Kurt Seligman was born in Basel in 1900. He studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Geneva, then at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence. He moved to Paris near the end of the 1920s, where he came in contact with members of Surrealism, and susequently became a member of the Abstraction-Création group in 1937. At the outbreak of World War II, he moved to New York, where he showed his work at the Karl Nierendorf Gallery in 1939. He participated in the First Papers of Surrealism exhibition in 1941, and the Artists in Exile exhibition in 1942, and actively collaborated in the magazines View and VVV, which together helped introduce the themes and principals of Surrealism to American audiences.

In 1948 he published a study on magic, the occult, and popular folklore titled The Mirror of Magic. Its themes are prevalent in the complex iconography of his paintings, often rich with symbolism alluding to alchemy and the Kabbalah. The fantastical and anguished imagery that emerges from his paintings and numerous woodcuts are a testament to, among other things, two artistic traditions: his examination of deformed and frightened visions evoked from the subconscious is typical of Surrealism, while also owing much to the rich Swiss-German figurative tradition he was exposed to as a child. Albrecht Altdorfer, Urs Graf, Matthias Grunewald, and Niklas Manuel Deutsch, but also Johann Heinrich Fussli and Ferdinand Hodler are all sources that influenced his art, which is often rooted in a Nordic environment of the medieval variety, populated by devils, suits of armour, heraldic imagery, threatening beings, and anthropomorphic creatures.

In addition to being a painter and woodcut artist, Seligmann also excelled in set design, creating costumes and scenery for Harry Holm and Geroge Balanchine. Shortly after the premier of the ballet The Golden Fleece: An Alchemistic Fanstasy in 1941, the artist met Peggy Guggenheim as she was returning to New York from Europe, and thus became part of her circle. Among other things, he was a mentor and master to significant artists such as Nell Blaine and Robert Motherwell, an important member of American cultural circles, and a teacher at Briarcliff Junior College and Brooklyn College in New York. Seligman died in Sugar Loaf, New York, on January 2, 1962.