The papers of artist and art patron Dorothea A. Dreier measure 2.6 linear feet and date from 1881-1941, with the bulk of the material dating from 1887-1923. The papers document the life and work of Dorothea Dreier and also contain the papers of and about members of her immediate family, particularly her sisters, Mary and Katherine Dreier, and Margaret Dreier Robins. Found are correspondence, printed materials, legal and financial records, photographs, and one sketchbook by Dreier.
Scope and Content Note:
The papers of the painter Dorothea A. Dreier measure 2.6 linear feet and date from 1881 to 1941, with the bulk of the materials dating from 1887-1923. These papers document not only her life and work as an artist, but also the activities of her distinguished family in the realms of social reform, women's suffrage, and politics, through correspondence, newspaper clippings, pamphlets, broadsides, exhibition catalogs, publications, photographs, ephemera, a sketchbook, and legal and financial records.
Biographical materials include official documents, childhood writings, notes, ephemera, membership cards, invitations, programs, notes, lists, and legal and financial records.
Measuring 1.2 linear feet, correspondence is the largest and most extensive series and consists of letters from family and close friends as well as business correspondence. Although the letters in this series span from 1881-1925, a large number stem from Dorothea's 1913-1916 stay at Saranac Lake for treatment of her tuberculosis.
Family correspondents consist of members of Dorothea's immediate family as well as more distant relations, including those who resided in her parent's native Germany. Letters from her sisters Mary E. Dreier, and Margaret (Gretchen) Dreier Robins, her sister-in-law Ethyl Eyre Valentine Dreier and brother-in-law Raymond Robins provide some insight into the varied social reform and political movements, such as women's suffrage and the Bull Moose Party, with which they were allied. Additionally both Mary and Margaret were active in the Women's Trade Union League, Margaret having served as the League's president from 1907-1922. Therefore their correspondence is a rich resource for scholars interested in women's history and the history of the Progressive Era in the United States.
Due to their shared interest in the arts, her sister Katherine S. Dreier's letters provide information about her own work as an artist, particularly when she was studying abroad, exhibitions in which she participated or visited, and the Cooperative Mural Workshop, a combination art school and workshop that she ran from 1914-1917 with Walt Kuhn, with substantial financial help from Dorothea.
Additionally through her Brooklyn neighborhood, art classes, and support of numerous social causes, Dorothea had a large circle of friends. Frequent correspondents include the Bartlett sisters, Agnes, Mary, and Maud, Rebecca Forbes, Ellen Kuhn Mahan, and Charlotte Schetter. Notable art world correspondents include Vincent van Gogh's sister Elisabeth du Quesne van Gogh, the American Tonalist landscape painter Charles Harold Davis and Dreier's painting instructor and close friend, the painter Walter Shirlaw.
Printed materials reflect the varied interests and activities of Dorothea Dreier and select members of her immediate family through exhibition announcements, catalogs, including a numbered copy of the The Dorothea A. Dreier Exhibition from the memorial exhibition of her work at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 1925, newspaper clippings relating to her career, the activities of other members of the Dreier family, art and politics; as well as pamphlets, broadsides, brochures and blank postcards.
Photographs include both studio portraits and informal snapshots of Dorothea and Katherine Dreier; group photographs including Dorothea; travel photographs, many of which appear to have been taken in the Netherlands; and photographs of Teddy Roosevelt giving a speech at a railway station. Artworks include a sketchbook by Dreier, five sketchbooks by friend and teacher, Walter Shirlaw, and an unidentified artist, a pencil drawing by Shirlaw, an engraving by Huquier and an etching by Ernest D. Roth.
The collection is arranged into 5 series:
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1884-1923 (Box 1; 0.75 linear feet)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1881-1925 (Boxes 1-2; 1.2 linear feet)
Series 3: Printed Material, 1883-1916 (Boxes 2-3; 0.5 linear feet)
Series 4: Photographs, circa 1900-1923 (Box 3; 7 folders)
Series 5: Artwork, circa 1885-1941 (Boxes 3-4; 9 folders)
Dorothea A. Dreier was born on December 8, 1870, in Brooklyn, New York to German immigrant parents. The second of five children in a close knit, socially progressive family, her siblings include the social reformers and suffragettes Mary E. Dreier and Margaret Dreier Robins. However she was closest to her youngest sister, Katherine S. Dreier, fellow artist, patron of modern art and cofounder of the Société Anonyme, an organization dedicated to the promotion of modern art in the United States. Her sole brother, H. Edward Dreier, followed his father into business and managed the family investments.
Of all the Dreier sisters, Dorothea is the least well-known and there is scant information about her artistic career. It appears that she began her formal art training with John Twachtman and William Merritt Chase, although accounts disagree as to whether it took place at the Art Students League or the National Academy of Design. In 1904 Dorothea and her sister Katherine began studying with the painter Walter Shirlaw, with whom they developed a close friendship. Both sisters also traveled abroad frequently as the family maintained close ties with their German relatives and they combined these visits with trips to museums and galleries throughout Europe where they studied the works of the Old Masters as well as more contemporary artists. As evidenced by her series of oil paintings of Dutch weavers of 1908, Dorothea was greatly influenced by Van Gogh's early paintings of rural Dutch peasant life and she spent long periods abroad living and painting in Laren, The Netherlands. Her later paintings depicted landscapes, both in The Netherlands and the Adirondacks, as well as a series of New York street scenes.
Unfortunately, during a 1913 sojourn in Laren, Dorothea contracted tuberculosis. She remained at Saranac Lake, a renowned treatment center in the Adirondacks from late December 1913 to sometime in 1916. During her convalescence, Dorothea remained actively involved in the arts as she continued to paint and draw and supported her sister Katherine's work at the Cooperative Mural Workshop, a short-lived combination art school and workshop that focused on the decorative arts.
In 1920, Dorothea supported Katherine's decision to champion modern art and made generous financial contributions toward the establishment of the Société Anonyme, where Dorothea's first solo exhibition took place in 1921. This was her only solo exhibition prior to her untimely death in 1923. In the spring of 1925, Christian Brinton of the Brooklyn Museum of Art organized a memorial exhibition for which Katherine Dreier privately published a limited edition catalogue.
The papers of Katherine S. Dreier related to the Société Anonyme Archives are located at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.
The Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute of Harvard University holds the papers of Mary E. Dreier
The bulk of the collection was donated to the Archives of American Art in 1959 by Mrs. Peter Voorhees, Dorothea A. Dreier's neice. Additional materials were donated in 2007 by Theodore and Barbara Dreier, Dreier's great-nephew and great-neice.
The bulk of this collection has been digitized and is available online via the Archives of American Art's website.