The papers of modernist painter Ben Benn measure 6.3 linear feet and date from 1906 through 1977, with the bulk of the papers dating from circa 1920 - circa 1970. The collection includes correspondence between Benn and his wife Velida Benn and letters from Oscar Bluemner, Max Weber, Joseph Stella, and other artists. Also found are sketches, sketchbooks, diaries, scrapbooks, personal business records, clippings, photographs, exhibition catalogs, art journals, and auction catalogs. Some of the printed material is quite rare.
Scope and Content Note:
The papers of modernist painter Ben Benn measure 6.3 linear feet and date from 1906 through 1977, with the bulk of the papers dating from circa 1920 - circa 1970. The collection includes correspondence between Benn and his wife Velida de Benn and letters from Oscar Bluemner, Max Weber, Joseph Stella, and other artists. Also found are biographical materials, sketches, sketchbooks, diaries, scrapbooks, personal business records, clippings, photographs, exhibition catalogs, art journals, and auction catalogs. Some of the printed material is quite rare.
The bulk of the collection consists of correspondence files dating from 1906 through 1993, and includes personal, professional, and family correspondence of Ben Benn and wife Velida Benn, as well as personal correspondence between the Benn's. Much of the professional correspondence relates to exhibitions and other projects and is with museums, galleries, and art associations, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Artists' Gallery, and the College Art Association. Additional correspondence contains letters from friends and colleagues including Alfred Barr, Oscar Bluemner, Rita Benton, Holger Cahill, Juliana Force, Sidney Geist, Kaj Klitgaard, Audrey McMahon, Julio Osma, Harry Salpeter, Hugh Stix, Hudson D. Walker, and Marguerite Zorach, among others. Letters exchanged between Ben Benn and Velida Benn primarily relate to Benn's activities in Woodstock, N.Y., Gloucester, Ma., and St. Augustine, Fla., places he visited during the early part of his career. Many of Benn's letters are illustrated. Velida Benn's correspondence includes letters from her brother Bernard Lopez, William M. Fisher (Metropolitan Museum of Art), Bessie Beatty, Rita Benton, Sidney Geist, and Julio Osma. Also found are brief notes from Joseph Stella, Max Weber, and Marsden Hartley.
Diaries (1943-1977) contain entries by Velida Benn and reflect her activities and personal observations; also found are numerous references to Benn's exhibitions and projects. Three scrapbooks (1915-1972) document Benn's exhibitions and include copies of correspondence, announcements, checklists, price lists, and clippings; many of the items are annotated. Artwork (1937-1974) consists of sketchbooks and various loose sketches of portraits, figures, and still lifes; also included are fashion sketches by Velida Benn.
Printed material (1905-1991, bulk 1930s-1970s) includes exhibition announcements and catalogs, newspaper and magazine clippings, printed programs, reproductions, and monographs. Of particular interest are Artists' and Writers' Chap Books (1933-1935) that include the work of Ben and Velida Benn. Photographs (1920-1969) contain images of works of art, of Ben Benn, individually and with Velida, and exhibition installation shots.
The collection is arranged into seven series based primarily on type of material. Material within each series is arranged chronologically.
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1983, undated (Box 1; 2 folders)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1906-1993, undated (Boxes 1-4; 4.0 linear ft.)
Series 3: Diaries, Notebooks, and Scrapbooks, 1915-1977, undated (Boxes 4-5; 11 folders)
Series 4: Personal Business Records, circa 1910-1979, undated (Box 5; 9 folders)
Series 5: Artwork, 1924-1974, undated (Box 5,7; 6 folders, 6 oversized items)
Series 6: Printed Material, 1911-1991, undated (Boxes 5-6; 2.0 linear ft.)
Series 7: Photographs and Negatives, 1920-1969, undated (Box 6; 6 folders)
New York painter Ben Benn was born in Russia in 1884 as Benjamin Rosenberg and died in 1983. Benn studied drawing and painting at the National Academy of Design from 1904-1908 and had his first exhibition, "Oils by Eight American Artists," at the Artists' Gallery in 1907. In 1916, Benn participated in the "Forum Exhibition of Modern American Painters" at the Anderson Galleries, along with artists Thomas Hart Benton, Oscar Bluemner, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, Man Ray, Abraham Walkowitz, and others. The exhibition was important in advancing the cause of modern art in American, particularly the American avant-garde and was recreated by the Whitney in 1983.
Best known as a modern painter who assimilated in his early style the influences of Matisse, Picasso, and Kandinsky, Benn's first one-man show was held at the J. B. Neumann Gallery in 1925. Portraits, still-lifes, and landscapes formed the core of Benn's subject themes and he often shifted between abstract and figurative images. He is known for his strong joyful colors, thick brush strokes and energetic paintings.
Benn was featured in over twenty one-man exhibitions and countless group shows. Major exhibitions included Abstract Painting in America (Whitney Museum, 1935), American Painting Today (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1950), and Ben Benn, Painter (The Jewish Museum, 1965). The Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. honored Benn with a one-man show on his ninetieth birthday (1974). His work is in permanent museum collections in both the U.S. and abroad including the Albany Institute of Art, the Smithsonian Institution's Hirshhorn Museum, the Knoxville Art Center, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Newark Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art, as well as the Museum of Arts, Ein-Harod in Israel and the Kröller-Müller Museum in Holland.
Ben Benn was a recipient of several awards for his achievement in painting. The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts honored Benn with the Henry Schiedt award (1952) and the Carol Beck Gold Medal (1965); Benn was also the recipient of the Knoxville Art Center Purchase Prize in 1961. In 1970 Benn was a beneficiary of the Childe Hassam Fund awarded through the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Benn's work is in permanent museum collections in both the U.S. and abroad including the Albany Institute of Art, the Smithsonian Institution's Hirshhorn Museum, the Knoxville Art Center, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Newark Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art, as well as the Museum of Arts, Ein-Harod in Israel and the Kröller-Müller Museum in Holland.
The Ben Benn papers were donated by Benn's nephew Peter Rosenberg to the Archives of American Art in 1988.
The collection is open for research. Use requires an appointment and is limited to the Washington, D.C. research facility.