The papers of art conservator and historian, engineer, and professor Daniel Varney Thompson (1902-1980) are dated 1848-1979, with the bulk of the material dated 1923-1979. The collection measures 10.1 linear feet and consists of biographical material, correspondence, subject files, writings, artwork, printed material, and photographs.
Scope and Content Note:
The papers of art conservator and historian, professor, engineer, and writer Daniel Varney Thompson (1902-1980) are dated 1848-1979, with the bulk of the material dated 1923-1979. The collection measures 10.1 linear feet and consists of biographical material, correspondence, subject files, writings, artwork, printed material, and photographs.
Biographical information includes certificates and diplomas, passports, and wills. Correspondence documents Daniel Varney Thompson's personal and professional life. Personal correspondence centers heavily on family members including his brother, the composer Randall Thompson. Professional correspondence concerns Thompson's academic career, research, writing, and work as a technical consultant and engineer. Among the correspondents are colleagues from Harvard, Yale, the Courtauld Institute, publishers, and academic and technical journals, in addition to corporate clients.
Subject files are comprised of varying correspondence, printed matter, photographs, notes and writings relating to Thompson's areas of interest. Personal and professional subject files include many relating to his research interests and engineering consulting projects. Of particular interest are numerous letters from Bernard Berenson. There is also correspondence with Belle da Costa Greene, as well as files concerning the Kermes beetle (a source of crimson dyes in the middle ages). Food and gardening subject files reflect Thompson's career as a writer and columnist on these subjects.
Writings consist mainly of manuscripts, drafts, research and miscellaneous notes; also included are diaries, poems, miscellaneous items, and a music score. Daniel Varney Thompson's personal and professional writings include two diaries, poems, and student writings. Most of his extant writings are on art-related topics, science and technology. Among the notes is an index to medieval manuscripts on craftsmanship in major European libraries was compiled by Thompson in 1935. His work on the subject remains unpublished and his notes are extremely valuable since some of the materials noted were lost in World War II. Scientific and technical notebooks, along with various wirings and reports, document projects undertaken as a technical consultant and engineer. The food and gardening writings are extensive and consist of manuscripts and notes for articles and columns, and for a book-length compilation of these writings. Among the writings by other authors are diaries of his mother and wife, and a music score by his brother, Randall Thompson.
Artwork by Daniel Varney Thompson, Mary Sargent McKean, and Henry Winslow consists of drawings, prints, watercolors, a sketchbook, and an oil painting. Printed material includes articles and book reviews by Daniel Varney Thompson, and items about or mentioning him and his family. Also found are articles and books about art, history, medieval studies, science and technology, and food and gardening topics.
Photographs are of artwork, people, places and miscellaneous subjects. Images of people are mainly Thompson and family members.
The collection is arranged as 7 series.
Series 1: Biographical Information, 1848-1970s (Box 1, OV 11-12; 0.3 linear ft.)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1914-1979 (Boxes 1-3; 2.0 linear ft.)
Series 3: Subject Files, 1925-1979 (Boxes 3-6; 3.0 linear ft.)
Series 4: Writings, 1907-1970s (Boxes 6-9; 2.85 linear ft.)
Series 5: Artwork, 1923-1934 (Box 9, OV 13; 5 folders)
Series 6: Printed Material, 1917-1979 (Box 9; 0.75 linear ft.)
Series 7: Photographs, circa 1900-1972 (Box 10; 0.4 linear ft.)
Daniel Varney Thompson (1902-1980) was an art conservator and historian, professor, engineer, and writer. A noted authority on medieval painting, Varney lived and worked primarily in the Boston area and London.
Daniel Varney Thompson was born in New Jersey in 1902. He was the son of Grace Randall Thompson and Daniel Varney Thompson, Sr., a classics teacher at the Lawrenceville School and later headmaster of Boston Latin School. American composer Randall Thompson was his older brother. Following family tradition, Thompson attended Harvard, earning the A.B. in 1922 and A.M. in 1926, focusing his attention on fine arts, physical chemistry, and literature. Daniel V. Thompson stopped using the designation Jr. after his father's death in 1932.
Between 1922 and 1925 Thompson was employed in the Fogg Museum's laboratory devoted to analyzing art materials for the purposes of detecting forgeries, preserving works of art, and devising methods to aid working artists. During this period, Thompson went to Italy as a Sheldon Fellow in Fine Arts, to learn medieval fresco painting techniques from Edward W. Forbes, Director of the Fogg Museum. He also had an opportunity to study medieval and Renaissance painting techniques with Inicio Federico Joni, and while in Italy began life-long friendships with the Forbes family and Bernard Berenson. Thompson served as a technical advisor to the 1924-1925 Second Harvard China Expedition; he traveled to China by way of India, where he studied wall paintings in caves at Ajanta and Elura and researched newly discovered scrolls.
Daniel Varney Thompson was on the faculty of Yale from 1926-1933, where he taught art history, and tempera painting courses, and laid the foundation for the Department of Fine Arts when Yale became a university in 1932. During his time at Yale, Thompson married Cecile [Cecily] de Luze Simonds.
When The American Council of Learned Societies awarded Thompson a research fellowship for the academic year 1933/34, he returned to Europe and surveyed major libraries for materials concerning the history of technology of the arts. Thompson was then invited to be Professor of the History of Technology at the University of London. He was on the faculty from 1934-1946, and also served as research and technical advisor, developing a laboratory at the Courtauld Institute for analysis of art materials.
During World War II, the Courtauld's laboratory - which had facilities for emission, absorption, and x-ray spectrography - was offered to the Ministry of Aircraft Production. To avoid compromising the University's tax-free status, Thompson formed and served as managing director of Daniel Varney Limited, a private company which leased the premises and equipment. From 1940 to 1945, the company was operated in the name of the Courtauld Institute, employing 200 people in tool making, gauge making, fine mechanisms, and development and production of optics instruments. After the war, Daniel Varney Limited shifted its interests to high vacuum diffusion pumps, gas manipulation, and glassblowing.
Upon returning to the United States in 1947, Thompson settled in the Boston area, becoming a technical consultant. He worked on projects for E-Z Mills, Inc., Sylvania Eloctronics, Comstock & Wescott, Inc., and other corporations. He was chief engineer of Jarrell-Ash Co., 1953-1955, redesigning optical instruments, spectrography, and schlieren systems. Between 1955 and 1957, Thompson served as Vice President of Swett & Sibley, involved with the design and development of optical instruments, scanning spectrometers, and densistometers. He then moved to Avco Corporation, where for the next decade he was a Senior Staff Consultant working on optical design in rocket instrumentation. Thompson retired from his engineering career in 1967.
Daniel V. Thompson wrote and published extensively. Art-related writings include translations and a monograph published by Yale University Press, and numerous articles and reviews. Translations are: Cennino Cennini's Il Libro dell'Arte (3 volumes: Text of Il Libro dell'Arte, 1932; The Craftsman's Handbook, 1933; and The Practice of Tempera Painting, 1936), and An Anonymous Fourteenth Century Treatise ( De arte illuminadi) (with his student George Heard Hamilton), 1936. A monograph, The Materials and Techniques of Medieval Painting (foreword by Bernard Berenson) appeared in 1936.
Most of Thompson's scientific and technical writings are unpublished and relate to projects for which he served as a consulting engineer.
Soon after retiring, Thompson began a new career that he continued for the remainder of his life. A serious cook and long-time gardener, he began writing about these topics, producing weekly columns that were published by newspapers from Maine to Chicago and contributing articles to Gourmet, Horticulture, and similar periodicals. Thompson also lectured to garden clubs and judged garden and flower competitions.
Daniel Varney Thompson died on January 4, 1980, following an automobile accident in Malaga, Spain.
Also found in the Archives of American Art are oral history interviews conducted with Daniel V. Thompson by Robert Brown, September 25, 1974-November 2, 1976. There are also three letters from Thompson to his sister-in-law Edith Simonds Moore.
The Daniel Varney Thompson papers were donated to the Archives of American Art in increments between 1974-1981 by Mr. Thompson and his estate.
Use of original papers requires an appointment.
The Daniel Varney Thompson papers are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.