Gifford Beal sketches, sketchbooks and papers, 1889-2001

A Finding Aid to the Gifford Beal Sketches, Sketchbooks, and Papers, 1889-2001 (bulk 1900-1954), in the Archives of American Art, by Megan McShea

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Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art

Table of Contents:

Biographical Information

Painter and muralist Gifford Beal was born in New York City in 1879, the youngest of six children. Beal began his art training at 13, when he accompanied his older brother, Reynolds Beal, to the Shinnecock School of Art for classes with William Merritt Chase. Gifford Beal continued to study with Chase for ten years at Shinnecock, the Tenth Street Studio building in New York City, and the New York School of Art. Beal attended college at Princeton University from 1896 to 1900, and from 1901 to 1903 he also took classes at the Art Students League with George Bridgman and Frank Vincent DuMond. In 1908, Beal married Maud Ramsdell of Newburgh, New York, where the Beal family also had an estate. They had two sons, William (b. 1914) and Gifford, Jr. (b. 1917).

Beal received all of his training in the United States at a time when European art training was the norm among his peers. Beal's earliest subject matter was taken from the familiar worlds of New York City and the Hudson River Valley, where he frequently spent his summers. Later work would depict other summer homes, including Provincetown, Rockport, and Gloucester, Massachusetts. Throughout his career he explored a variety of styles in his approach to these and other representational subjects such as garden parties, the circus, Central Park scenes, and coastal scenes in the Northeast and the Caribbean.

Beal exhibited at the National Academy of Design's annual exhibition almost continuously from 1901 to 1956, was a member of the Academy from 1914, and won at least seven awards given by the Academy over the course of his career. He won his first award in 1903 from the Worcester Art Museum. He exhibited regularly in major annual exhibitions and world expositions, including the Panama Pacific Exposition of 1915, where he won a gold medal.

Gifford and Reynolds Beal exhibited in a two-man show in 1907 at Clausen Galleries, and the two brothers were both eventually represented by Kraushaar Galleries, where Gifford Beal had his first one-man show in 1920. Beal served as president of the Art Students League from 1916 until 1930, the longest term of any president, and taught there in 1931 and 1932.

Beal was commissioned by the Section on Painting and Sculpture of the Works Progress Administration to paint ten murals for the Allentown, Pennsylvania post office in the late 1930s. The Allentown murals depicted American revolutionaries hiding the liberty bell at Allentown. In 1941, he completed two murals in the Department of the Interior building in Washington, DC: North Country, and Tropical Country, and he painted seven panels at Princeton University in 1943 depicting the life of the nineteenth-century engineer Joseph Henry. He was awarded an honorary Masters degree by Princeton in 1947.

Retrospective exhibitions were held at the Century Club, San Francisco Museum, Des Moines Art Center, and Butler Institute in the early 1950s. Upon his death in 1956, a memorial exhibition was held at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, where Beal became a member in 1943.

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Overview of the Collection

Scope and Contents

The papers of painter and muralist Gifford Beal measure 5 linear feet and date from 1889 to 2001. The bulk of the collection consists of artwork; some correspondence, printed matter, pictorial subject files, photographs, and writings are also found. Works of art are primarily sketches and sketchbooks in a wide variety of media. Seventy-six sketchbooks are found. Among the loose sketches are 28 oil paintings on wood board or panel, and fourteen large pastel drawings on canvas depicting dancing figures in a romantic style. Artwork by other artists in the collection include prints by Arthur B. Davies, Rockwell Kent, and Denys Wortman.

Biographical materials include membership certificates, a marriage certificate, and a travel journal kept by Beal's wife Maud on their honeymoon. Personal correspondence consists primarily of love letters with his wife. Three folders of professional correspondence contain letters from Joseph Pennell (1925); Federal Art Project staff from the Treasury Department including Ed Rowan, Edward Bruce, and Forbes Watson (1938); Walker Hancock (1951); and a series of letters signed "Hyde," from Crow Island, Massachusetts, which may have been written by Edward Hyde Cox (1953-1954).

Also found among the papers are printed materials such as exhibition catalogs, clippings, and reproductions of artwork; subject files containing clippings, photographs, and other pictorial references to common subjects of Beal's artwork; and a few personal photographs and photographs of works of art. Notes and writings are found among his sketchbooks, including one long autobiographical essay which may have been for a lecture, a few diary entries from 1942, and extensive notes on the color, form, and lighting of his sketching subjects.

Arrangement and Series Description

The collection is arranged into 6 series:

Subjects and Names

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


  • Muralists -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Mural painting and decoration -- 20th century -- Pennsylvania -- Allentown
  • Painters -- New York (State)
  • Drawing -- Technique

Types of Materials:

  • Works of art
  • Sketchbooks
  • Love letters
  • Photographs


  • Beal, Maud Ramsdell
  • Davies, Arthur B. (Arthur Bowen), 1862-1928
  • Kent, Rockwell, 1882-1971
  • Wortman, Denys, 1887-1958
  • Pennell, Joseph, 1857-1926
  • Rowan, Edward Beatty, 1898-1946
  • Bruce, Edward, 1879-1943
  • Watson, Forbes, 1880-1960
  • Hancock, Walker Kirtland, 1901-
  • Cox, Edward
  • Federal Art Project


Papers were donated to the Archives by Gifford Beal's descendants in three separate accessions. Beal's sons, William and Gifford R. Beal, Jr., donated sketches and sketchbooks in 1992 and 1993. Richard and Lewis Goff, Margaret Beal Alexander, and Telka Beal donated additional sketches, sketchbooks, and materials from Beal's studio in 2000 through the Cape Ann Savings Bank, facilitated by Kraushaar Galleries. Margaret Beal Alexander, Beal's granddaughter, also donated personal papers of her grandparents via Kraushaar Galleries in 2000. Additional sketchbooks and a poster illustrated by Beal were donated by Beal's Estate via kraushaar Galleries in 2007.

How the Collection was Processed

Each accession was processed to a preliminary level upon receipt. The various accessions were merged, arranged, described, and digitized in 2007 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

How to Use the Collection

Restrictions on Use

The bulk of the collection has been digitized and is available online via AAA's website. Use of material not digitized requires an appointment.

Ownership & Literary Rights

The Gifford Beal sketches, sketchbooks, and 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 was digitized in 2007 and is available via the Archives of American Art's website. Materials not scanned include some of the exhibition catalogs, newsclippings, magazines, pamphlets, books, and printed reproductions of artwork by others in the Printed Materials series and Subject Files series. Additionally, photographs of works of art have not been scanned, and artwork that is too large or too fragile to be handled has not been scanned.

How to Cite this Collection

Gifford Beal sketches, sketchbooks, and papers, 1889-2001. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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Detailed Description and Container Inventory

Series 1: Biographical Materials, circa 1900-1909, 1942, 1953
(Boxes 1, 5, and OV 10; 0.2 linear feet)

This series contains personal artifacts and documents of Gifford and Maud Beal, including certificates, memorabilia, and a journal.

Membership Certificates include a 1953 American Watercolor Society membership and a National Academy of Design membership from 1914, re-issued in 1942. Maud Beal's travel diary was kept during their 1908 honeymoon to Norway and the British Isles, a December, 1908 trip to Washington, DC, and a 1909 sketching trip to Cold Spring, NY. The journal is illustrated with picture postcards and contains scattered references to Beal's sketching excursions.

Box Folder
1 1 Membership Certificates, 1942, 1953
(See OV 10)
1 2 Marriage Certificate, 1908
1 3 Princeton Alumni Patch, circa 1900
1 4 Maud Beal's Travel Journal, 1908-1909
(See Box 5)
5 (sol) Maud Beal's Travel Journal (See Box 1, folder 4)
10 (OV) Oversized Membership Certificates (See Box 1, folder 1)

Series 2: Correspondence, circa 1906-1954
(Box 1; 0.4 linear feet)

Beal's Correspondence is divided into two groups: letters between Beal and his wife during their courtship and early marriage, and general correspondence.

Letters between Gifford and Maud Beal were written early in their relationship, and are primarily of a personal nature. Beal's letters to his wife contain scattered references to his painting and his experiences in the art world during this period. Two letters from 1906 are illustrated with small cartoons. Scattered third party correspondence of a personal nature is also found among these letters.

General correspondence contains letters from Joseph Pennell (1925); Federal Art Project staff from the Treasury Department including Ed Rowan, Edward Bruce, and Forbes Watson (1938); Walker Hancock (1951); and a series of letters signed "Hyde," from Crow Island, Massachusetts, which may have been written by Edward Hyde Cox (1953-1954). An undated letter from the artist William C. Palmer is filed at the end of the series.

Several postcards with handwritten notes are filed with picture files in the Print Materials and Subject Files.

Box Folder
1 5-16 Correspondence between Gifford Beal and Maud Ramsdell Beal, 1906-1914
(12 folders)
1 17-19 General Correspondence, 1908, 1925, 1938-1954
(3 folders)

Series 3: Printed Materials, circa 1900-2001
(Box 1, OV 11; 0.5 linear feet)

This series contains exhibition catalogs, magazines, newspaper clippings, pamphlets, postcards, and other printed materials related to the career of Gifford Beal.

Exhibition catalogs are for group and solo exhibitions by Beal, with a couple of exhibitions by others represented. A 1938 catalog contains sketches, presumably by Beal, and a few of the other catalogs contain annotations. Single sheets torn from catalogs of group shows are filed at the end of the exhibition catalog file.

Magazines with cover art by Beal include Town and Country, Christian Herald, and The Spur. Clippings contain articles about Beal's exhibitions and reproductions of his artwork. Where found, entire issues of periodicals are filed separately. Pamphlets on artists and art history are primarily small editions produced by Frederick Keppel and Co., which contain etchings of artwork. Reproductions of other artists work such as Fourain, Daumier, Ingres, Degas, Dufy, and others include clippings, prints, and postcards, some of which are annotated with handwritten messages.

Most of the material in this series has been digitized. For longer published works, only the covers, title pages, and pages relevant to Gifford Beal have been digitized. Additional printed materials are found in Biographical Materials and Subject Files.

Box Folder
1 20-24 Exhibition Catalogs, circa 1920-2001
(5 folders; partially scanned)
1 25 Magazines and Poster Illustrated by Beal, 1924-1945
(See Box 5 and OV 16; partially scanned)
1 26-28 Newspaper Clippings, 1925-1968, undated
(See also OV 11)
1 29 Newspaper Clippings, Photocopies (1908 and undated), circa 2000
1 30-31 Pamphlets and Books on Art Subjects, circa 1914-1948
(2 folders; partially scanned)
(contains "Mural Installation" by Alexander Abels)
1 32-33 Periodicals, circa 1934-1946
(2 folders)
1 34 Postcards with Artwork by Beal, undated
1 35 Reproductions of Artwork by Other Artists, crica 1900-1940
(See also Box 5; partially scanned)
5 (sol) Oversized Magazines Illustrated by Beal (See Box 1, folder 25)
5 (sol) Oversized Reproductions of Artwork by Other Artists (See box 1, folder 35)
11 (OV) Oversized Newspaper Clippings (See Box 1, folders 26-28)
16 (OV) Oversized Poster Illustrated by Beal (See Box 1, folder 25)

Series 4: Subject Files, circa 1889-1953
(Boxes 1-2, OV 10-12; 0.4 linear feet)

This series contains clippings, photographs, pamphlets, and postcards with images of frequent subjects of Beal's artwork. Contents of files are predominantly printed materials; files containing photographs are noted in the folder listing. The Circus file also contains a large circus poster and numerous programs. The Costume and Horses files contain illustrated reference books. A project file for Beal's Princeton murals also contains photographs, magazine and journal articles, and clippings about the life of engineer Joseph Henry.

Files are arranged alphabetically by subject headings assigned during processing.

Box Folder
1 36 Architecture, circa 1927-1941
(contains photographs)
1 37 Ballet, circa 1911-1940
(See also OV 11)
1 38-39 Circus, circa 1908-1941
(2 folders; partially scanned; see also OV 11 and OV 12)
(contains photographs)
1 40-41 Costume, 1927, undated
(2 folders; partially scanned; see also OV 11)
1 42 Crowds, circa 1913, 1927
1 43 Dogs, undated
1 44 Elephants, circa 1911-1931
(See also OV 11)
1 45-46 Horses, circa 1912-1953
(partially scanned; see also OV 11)
1 47 Marine Subjects, circa 1925-1939
(See also OV 10 and 11)
(contains photographs)
1 48 Princeton Murals, circa 1931-1941
(contains photographs)
Box Folder
2 1 Royalty, 1911, 1912, 1953
(See also OV 11)
2 2 Tropics, circa 1920-1959
2 3 Miscellany, circa 1889-1939
(See also OV 11 and OV 12)
10 (OV) Oversized Materials from Subject Files (See box 1, folder 47)
11 (OV) Oversized Materials from Subject Files (See Box 1, folders 37-38, 40, 44, 46-47, Box 2, folder 1 and 3)
12 (OV) Oversized Materials from Subject Files (See Box 1, folder 38 and Box 2, folder 3)

Series 5: Photographs, circa 1908-1950
(Box 2, OV 10; 0.2 linear feet)

Photographs in this series depict Gifford and Maud Beal, Beal's artwork, and other subjects. Photographs of Beal include a passport photo and an image of him painting, and there is a single wedding photograph of his wife, Maud Ramsdell Beal. Other subjects include a snapshot of friends inscribed "Cosy, Arthur, and Little Dolly Sullivan" at the home of William Merritt Chase, a religious procession in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and a number of unidentified buildings and architectural subjects.

Photographs of works of art include paintings, murals, and sculptures. The sculptures depicted in the photographs of artwork do not appear to have been made by Beal. Only installation views and one photograph of a mural site have been digitized. Otherwise, photographs of works of art have not been digitized.

Additional photographs are found in Subject Files. See series description for further details.

Box Folder
2 4 Beal at Work and Passport Photograph, circa 1940-1941
2 5 Wedding Portrait of Maud Beal, 1908
2 6 Friends at the William Merritt Chase Home in Shinnecock Hills, 1913
2 7 Gloucester, Massachusetts Religious Festival, circa 1930-1939
2 8 Miscellaneous Subjects, undated
(See also Subject Files)
2 Photographs of Works of Art
2 9 Installation and Studio Views, circa 1920-1950
(partially scanned)
2 10 Murals and Preliminary Sketches for Murals, circa 1938-1941
(partially scanned; see also OV 10)
2 11 Paintings and Sculpture, undated
(not scanned; see also OV 10)
10 (OV) Oversized Photographs (See Box 2, folder 10 and 11)

Series 6: Artwork, circa 1900-1951
(Boxes 2-9; OV 10, 13-20 and rolled documents 21 and 22; 3.3 linear feet)

Artwork includes sketchbooks, loose sketches in a variety of media, and prints.

The Artwork series is arranged by type of material into 3 subseries:

6.1: Sketchbooks, circa 1900-1943 and undated

This series contains 76 sketchbooks with pencil, charcoal, pastel, ink, and wash sketches, drawings, and studies.

Subjects are similar to those found in Beal's paintings, with many life drawings, casual sitters (probably family members), circus scenes, marine subjects, genre scenes, cityscapes, landscapes, and buildings. Two sketchbooks contain significant writings: one appears to be a lecture about art education, possibly written around 1925, and the other contains diary entries dated 1942. Scattered annotations regarding color are found throughout the sketchbooks. A sketchbook belonging to Gifford Beal, Jr., contains a couple of sketches by Gifford Beal, Sr. as well.

Where possible, sketchbooks are arranged chronologically, but the majority of dates were estimated during processing, and many remain undated. Date estimates are based largely on women's attire in drawings and the assumption that they were drawn from life and not retrospectively. Each group of sketchbooks is arranged by size, from small to large.

Box Folder
2 12 Sketchbook, circa 1900
2 13 Sketchbook, circa 1902
2 14 Sketchbook, circa 1908
2 15 Sketchbooks, circa 1900-1910
(2 volumes; see also Box 5)
2 16-17 Sketchbooks, before 1920
(5 volumes; see also Box 5)
2 18 Sketchbook with Autobiographical Writings, circa 1925
2 19 Sketchbook, circa 1928
2 20 Sketchbooks, circa 1920-1929
(18 volumes; see also Boxes 6 and 7 and OV 13)
2 21 Sketchbooks, circa 1930-1939
(3 volumes; see Box 7)
2 22 Sketchbook with Diary Entries, circa 1942
2 23 Sketchbook, circa 1943
2 24-40 Sketchbooks, undated
(17 folders; 40 volumes; See also Boxes 8 and 9 and OV 13)
2 41 Sketchbook by Gifford Beal, Jr. (son), circa 1930-1931
(see Box 9)
5 (sol) Oversized Sketchbooks (See box 2, folders 15, 17)
6 (sol) Oversized Sketchbooks (See box 2, folder 20)
7 (sol) Oversized Sketchbooks (See box 2, folders 20-21)
8 (sol) Oversized Sketchbooks (See box 2, folder 40)
9 (sol) Oversized Sketchbooks (See box 2, folders 40-41)
13 (OV) Oversized Sketchbooks (See box 2, folders 20 and 40)

6.2: Loose Sketches, circa 1900-1951

Loose sketches are found in a variety of media including pencil, ink, charcoal, pastel, and watercolor, and are generally unsigned and undated. Subjects are similar to those found in sketchbooks, although loose sketches are found on a variety of supports including wood board, carbon paper, and canvas. Most sketches on paper are arranged by broad subject categories, listed in the folder listing. A 1928 sketch signed illegibly by an artist other than Beal is found with Figure sketches. Most of the sketches have been digitized, however, items too large or too fragile to be handled have not been scanned.

Sketches on supports other than paper are filed separately. Sketches on carbon paper seem to have been made as a preliminary process and re-used. Large pastel and ink sketches on board range from studies to finished drawings, including several genre scenes that may have been preliminary drawings for Beal's murals. Oil sketches on board range in size from approximately 3x5 to 11x17 inches and include landscapes, marine subjects, still lifes and figures. Unlike other loose sketches, almost all of the oil sketches on wood board are signed or initialed, and one is dated 1914. Pastel drawings on canvas may have been preliminary drawings, or cartoons, for murals. All depict dancing figures in a romantic style, and one canvas is signed by Beal.

Additional sketches are found in the Print Materials series, and scattered illustrated letters are found in Correspondence.

Box Folder
2 42 Figures, 1921, 1928, undated
(See also OV 14)
2 43 Genre Drawings, undated
2 44 Still Lifes, 1947, undated
(See also OV 14)
2 45 Landscapes and Architecture, 1951, undated
(See also OV 14)
2 46 Marine Subjects, undated
(See also OV 14)
2 47 Hands and Other Studies, undated
(See also OV 14)
2 48 Animals and Circus Scenes, undated
2 49 Mural Studies, undated
(See also OV 14 and rolled documents 21 and 22; rolled documents not scanned due to fragility)
2 50 Mural Studies for Princeton Murals, circa 1943
(See also OV 14)
2 51 Large Pastel and Ink Sketches on Wood Board, undated
(See OV 15 and 16)
2 52 Oil Sketches on Wood Board, 1914, undated
(See Boxes 3 and 4)
2 53 Pastel Drawings on Canvas, undated
(See OV 17, 18, and 19; not scanned due to large size)
2 54 Sketches on Carbon Paper, undated
(See OV 20; not scanned)
3 (pam) Oil Sketches on Wood Board (See Box 2, folder 52)
4 (pam) Oil Sketches on Wood Board (See Box 2, folder 52)
14 (OV) Oversized Loose Sketches (see Box 2, folders 42, 44-47, 49, 50)
15 (OV) Oversized Pastel and Ink Sketches on Wood Board (see box 2, folder 51)
16 (OV) Oversized Pastel and Ink Sketches on Wood Board (See box 2, folder 51)
17 (OV) Oversized Pastel Drawings on Canvas (See box 2, folder 53)
18 (OV) Oversized Pastel Drawings on Canvas (See box 2, folder 53)
19 (OV) Oversized Pastel Drawings on Canvas (See box 2, folder 53)
20 (OV) Oversized Sketches on Carbon Paper (See box 2, folder 54)
21 (RD) Oversized Mural Studies (See box 2, folder 49)
22 (RD) Oversized Mural Studies (See box 2, folder 49)

6.3: Prints, circa 1900-1939 and undated

Most of the prints are the work of artists other than Beal and are signed. Original prints are found by Arthur B. Davies, Rockwell Kent, Muirhead Bone, and Denys Wortman. Among the unsigned prints, two appear to be antique, and one is a cancellation proof which may have been made by Beal.

Box Folder
2 55 Prints by Arthur B. Davies, circa 1900-1920
(See OV 10)
2 56 Print by Rockwell Kent, 1925
(See OV 10)
2 57 Print by Muirhead Bone, circa 1900-1910
2 58 Prints by Denys Wortman, circa 1930-1939
(See also OV 10)
2 59 Unsigned Prints, undated
(See also OV 10)
10 (OV) Oversized Prints (See Box 2, folders 55, 56, 58, 59)