Carl Holty papers, circa 1860s-1972, bulk 1940-1967

A Finding Aid to the Carl Holty Papers, circa 1860s-1972 (bulk 1940-1967), in the Archives of American Art, by Catherine S. Gaines

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Table of Contents:

Biographical Information

Carl Holty was born in 1900 to American parents in Freiburg, Germany, where his father was studying medicine. Carl was still an infant when the family returned to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where they lived with his grandparents in a traditional German neighborhood. It was Carl’s grandfather who first introduced him to art through visits to a small local commercial gallery.

After showing an interest in being an artist at around age 12, Holty began taking lessons with a local painter. As a teenager he began drawing cartoons and soon set his sights on becoming a poster artist. With that in mind, Holty enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1919. He soon headed to New York and took courses at the Parsons School of Design and then at the National Academy of Design. In 1923 he returned to Milwaukee and opened a portrait painting studio.

Holty married in 1925 and took his bride to Europe, remaining abroad for the next decade. He entered Hans Hofmann’s school in Munich in 1926, and exposure to Hofmann’s ideas about color, space, and form greatly influenced and transformed his work. In 1927, the Holtys relocated to Switzerland in search of treatment for Mrs. Holty’s tuberculosis. Holty and Hofmann remained in touch, and while in Switzerland, Holty increasingly incorporated Hofmann’s teachings into his paintings as they grew more abstract in style.

After his wife’s death in 1930, Holty moved to Paris for five years where he participated in several exhibitions and his work was well-received. Robert Delaunay invited him to join Abstration-Création, and the group published some of Holty’s work in its magazine.

Upon returning to the United States in 1935, Holty settled in New York City where he eventually remarried and had a daughter. He renewed friendships with Hans Hofmann, Vaclav Vytlacil, and Stuart Davis, whom he had known in Paris. A figure in vanguard art circles, Holty was involved in meetings that resulted in the formation of the American Abstract Artists, and in 1938 he served as the group’s chairman.

Holty taught drawing and paining at Brooklyn College from 1950 until his retirement in 1970, when he was designated Professor Emeritus. His years at Brooklyn College were punctuated by brief stints as a visiting instructor at the Art Students League, Washington University (St. Louis), and University of Louisville; he served as artist-in-residence at the universities of Georgia, Florida, California (Berkeley), and Wisconsin, and the Corcoran School of Art.

He exhibited widely at major museums throughout the United States including: the San Francisco Art Museum, Seattle Art Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art, Carnegie Institute, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Holty’s work was shown at major New York galleries such as J. B. Neumann, Samuel Kootz Gallery, and Graham Gallery, and is in the permanent collections of many museums including: Addison Gallery of American Art, Brooklyn Museum, Butler Institute of Art, Carnegie Institute, Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

Carl Holty died March 22, 1973 in New York City, after a short illness.

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Overview of the Collection

Scope and Contents

The papers of Carl Holty are dated circa 1860s-1972 (bulk 1940-1967), measure 1.8 linear feet and consist of correspondence, writings, printed material and photographs documenting Holty's career as an abstract painter and painting teacher.

Correspondence with Romare Bearden, Charles Byrne and Hilaire Hiler concerns art, exhibitions and reviews, education, and news of mutual friends. Holty’s writings include articles, autobiographical writings, unpublished manuscripts of a monograph, Art In America, and an untitled novel. Also found among his writings is a journal which contains his reminiscences of artist friends and acquaintances, and reflections on art, art history, and his life, personal plans and aspirations.

Printed material consists mainly of clippings about or mentioning Holty, and reviews and publicity relating to The Painter’s Mind, a book Holty wrote with Romare Bearden. Miscellaneous records consist of a transcript of an interview with Carl Holty and an identification card issued to his father.

Photographs are of artwork, people and places. Also included are 6 photograph albums of Holty’s artwork, and a small number of negatives. The people pictured are mainly Holty, friends and family. There is also a group photograph that includes Joan Miró.

Arrangement and Series Description

The collection is arranged as 5 series:

Subjects and Names

This collection is indexed in the online catalog of the Archives of American Art under the following terms:


  • Painting, Modern -- 20th century -- New York (state) -- New York
  • Painters -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Painting -- Study and teaching

Types of Materials:

  • Photographs
  • Photograph albums
  • Interviews


  • Hiler, Hilaire, 1898-1966
  • Bearden, Romare, 1911-1988
  • Byrne, Charles B.


The Carl Holty papers were donated in increments between 1972 and 2006. The bulk of the papers were originally loaned in 1968, and later donated by Holty in 1972. Charles Byrne, a friend of Holty, donated a small amount of correspondence, printed material, and photographs in 1976-1977; family photographs were given by Holty’s biographer, Virginia Liles, in 2006.

Separated and Related Materials

Loaned material that was not later donated by Holty was returned to Holty after microfilming. This includes Holty's letters to his wife, Elizabeth, and daughter, Antonia, letters to Zoe Dusanne, letters from Ulfert Wilkie and Erwin Breithaupt, a small amount of general correspondence, and a typescript copy of Holty's journal. Loaned material is available on microfilm reels N68-93 and N68-105, but is not described in the container listing of this finding aid.

Six interviews with Carl Holty (in addition to the one described in this finding aid) are available at the Archives of American Art. Three are oral histories conducted by the Archives of American Art, 1964-1968. The others are parts of interview collections accessioned by the Archives: Interviews relating to American Abstract Artists (Ruth Bowman), Anne Bowen Parsons collection of Interviews on Art, and Collette Roberts Interviews with Artists.

In addition, substantial correspondence with Carl Holty is included among the Hilaire Hiler papers and Romare Bearden papers owned by the Archives of American Art.

How the Collection was Processed

The bulk of the collection was microfilmed in several installments in the order in which it was received and/or loaned on reels N68-93, N68-105, 439, 670, and 1625. The entire collection was merged and re-processed, arranged and described by Catherine S. Gaines in 2007.

How to Use the Collection

Restrictions on Use

The collection is open for research. Use requires an appointment.

Ownership & Literary Rights

The Carl Holty 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.

Available Formats

The bulk of the collection is available on microfilm reels reels 439, 670, 1625, N68-93, and N68-105, at Archives of American Art offices and through interlibrary loan. Researchers should note that the arrangement of the collection as described in this finding aid does not reflect the order of the collection on microfilm. When known, references to reel numbers have been added to folder headings.

How to Cite this Collection

Carl Holty papers, circa 1860s-1972 (bulk 1940-1967). Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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Detailed Description and Container Inventory

Series 1: Correspondence, 1940-1972
(Box 1; 5 folders)

Carl Holty’s correspondence with Romare Bearden, Charles Byrne, and Hilaire Hiler concerns art, exhibitions and reviews, education, and news of mutual friends. Also included are a letter from Margaret Bush-Brown, and a letter and postcard from Hélion.

Box Folder
1 1 Bearden Romare, 1948-1952
(see also Reel 670)
1 2 Bush-Brown, Marjorie, undated
(see also Reel 670)
1 3 Byrne, Charles, 1966-1972
(see also Reel 1625)
1 4 Hélion, 1948
(see also Reel 670)
1 5 Hiler, Hilaire, 1940-1962
(see also Reel 670)

Series 2: Writings, 1944-1967
(Box 1; 0.6 linear feet)

Carl Holty’s writings consist of a journal, articles, autobiographical writings, and unpublished manuscripts of a monograph titled Art In America, and an untitled novel.

Journal entries include reminiscences of artist friends and acquaintances, as well as reflections on art, art history, past experiences, routine events of daily life, plans and aspirations. Included is an incomplete, handwritten copy of Carl Holty’s journal covering the periods January 1963-October 1964 and April 1966-May 1967.

Box Folder
1 6 Articles, "The Way to Creativity" and "Art," undated
(see also Reel 670)
1 7 Autobiographical Writings (7 mss.), undated
(see also Reel N68-93)
1 Book, Art in America
(see also Reels N68-93 and 670)
1 8 Outlines, undated
1 9 Section I: "A Million People are Painting," undated
1 10 Section I a: "Motives of the Amateur – From Without," undated
1 11 Section I b: "Motives of the Amateur – From Within," undated
1 12 Section III: [untitled], undated
1 13 Section IV: "An Historical Survey of American Painting and Recent Trends in Our Taste," undated
1 14 Section V: "The Amateur and Modern Art," undated
1 15 Section VI: "The Depression and Art in America," undated
1 16 Section VII: "Collectors and Patrons," undated
1 17 Section VIII: "The Commercial Triumph of Modern Art (and the influence it exerts on all painting today)," undated
1 18 Section IX: "Art Appreciation," undated
1 19 Section X: "Teaching," undated
1 20-22 Journal, 1963-1964, 1966-1967
(3 folders; see also Reel N68-93)
1 23 Novel (untitled, unfinished), 1944
(see also Reel 670)

Series 3: Printed Material, 1931-1972
(Box 1; 5 folders)

Printed material primarily comprises clippings about or mentioning Holty, and reviews and publicity relating to The Painter’s Mind, a book Holty wrote with Romare Bearden.

Box Folder
1 24 Clippings about/mentioning Carl Holty, 1931-1970
(see also Reel 1625)
1 25 Exhibition Catalog and Announcement, 1972, undated
(see also Reel 1625)
1 26 Miscellaneous Printed Material, undated
1 27 Reviews and Publicity for The Painter’s Mind by Romare Bearden and Carl Holty, 1969-1970
(see also Reel 670)
1 28 Reviews and Publicity for The Painter’s Mind by Romare Bearden and Carl Holty, 1969

Series 4: Miscellaneous Records, 1900, 1966
(Box 1; 2 folders)

Miscellaneous records consist of a transcript of an interview with Carl Holty and an identification card issued to his father.

Box Folder
1 29 "Carl Holty Interviewed by Nina Wayne, New York University Art Department," 1966
(see also Reel 670)
1 30 University of Freiburg Identification Card issued to Dr. Karl Holty, 1900

Series 5: Photographs, circa 1860s-1972
(Boxes 1-3; 0.9 linear feet)

Photographs are mainly of Holty, friends and family. Among the folders titled "Carl Holty with Others" is a group shot that includes Joan Miró, as well as several classroom views with students. The albums (6 vols.) contain photographs of art work by Holty, and a few of the artist posed with his paintings.

The series is arranged into 5 subseries:

5.1: Artwork, circa 1925-1965

Box Folder
1 31 By Holty, circa 1925-1965, undated
1 32 By Holty, 1940-1963, undated
(see also Reel 1625)
1 33 By Others [student assignment?], undated

5.2: People, circa 1860s-1972

Box Folder
1 34 Carl Holty, 1936-1972, undated
1 35 Carl Holty in Studio (119 East 119th St., New York), 1948
(see also Reel 439: 1109)
1 36 Carl and Mrs. Holty; Mrs. Holty with Others, undated
1 37 Carl Holty with Others, 1947, undated
1 38 Carl Holty with Students and Others, circa 1960s, undated
(see also Reel 1625)
1 39 Carl Holty with Students; Students in Classroom, 1958, undated
1 Friends and Relatives
1 40 Clara (great aunt), circa 1870-1936
1 41 Engelman, Peter; Geuder, George, Aunt Geuder, Tina Gauder (sic); Hofmann, circa 1890-1900
1 42 Grandmother, circa 1860s
1 43 Holty Family, 1900-1938, undated
1 44 Jacoby, Sigmund; Kiewert (?); Kisling, Dr.; Kroeck, John, circa 1880s-circa 1900s
1 45 Landauer Family, circa 1890s-1900s
1 46 Landauer and Wallace Families, circa 1900
1 47 Law, Adolf (great uncle); Rindstropp, Samuel; Seeman, John P.; Seligmann, Yetti, circa 1890s-1900s
1 48 Stern Family, circa 1890s-1900s
1 49 Wallace Family, circa 1890s-1920s
1 50 Wasserman, Rabbi and Mrs. (Landauer relatives), circa 1870s-1890s
1 51 Weinberg, E. Schaefer, circa 1900
1 52 Unknown (identified, but illegible), 1868-1892, undated
1 Unidentified
1 53 Children, circa 1870s-1900s
1 54 Couples and Groups, circa 1860s-1926, undated
1 55 Men, circa 1870s-1900s
1 56 Women, circa 1870s-1900s

5.3: Places, 1962-1964

Box Folder
1 57 Carl Holty’s Studio, 1964, undated
1 58 Interiors (unidentified) 1962, undated
1 59 Lenz Farm; Buildings (unidentified); Landscape, "Near Amerika!!," undated

5.4: Photographs Albums, 1936-1972

Box Folder
2 (hol) 1 Vol. 1: 1936-1942
2 (hol) 2 Vol. 2: 1942-1948
2 (hol) 3 Vol. 3: 1947-1950
Box Folder
3 (hol) 1 Vol. 4: 1950-1957
3 (hol) 2 Vol. 5: 1957-1959
3 (hol) 3 Vol. 6: 1959-1972

5.5: Negatives, circa 1950s-circa 1970s

Box Folder
3 (hol) 4 Artwork by Others [student assignment?], undated
3 (hol) 5 Carl Holty with Students; Students in Classroom, undated