Mabel Alvarez papers, 1898-1987

A Finding Aid to the Mabel Alvarez Papers, 1898-1987, in the Archives of American Art, by Rosa M. Fernandez

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Table of Contents:

Biographical Information

Mabel Alvarez (1891-1985) established her career as a portrait painter in California. Born in Hawaii, she moved to Los Angeles as a child and later studied with Stanton Macdonald Wright. Her early work was characterized by interests in Symbolism and Art Nouveau as well as the influences of Impressionism. Alvarez also studied with William Cahill at the School for Illustration and Painting which Cahill founded with John Hubbard Rich in 1914.

As a young woman, Alvarez was influenced by the philosophical writings of Will Levington Comfort, who espoused the principles of Theosophy and Eastern mysticism. She attended lectures and meditation sessions at Comfort's Highland Park home, experiences which fostered artistic experimentation and departure. Alvarez became part of the "Group of Eight" in 1922, a forward thinking artists collective which veered away from the predictable standards of the California Art Club. The members of the group were Henri de Kruif, Luvena and Edouard Vysekal, Donna Schuster, Roscoe Shrader, Clarence Hinkle and her former teacher, John Hubbard Rich.

Her work took a decisive turn when she met the painter Morgan Russel in 1927. At this time her paintings became more figurative rather than decorative or ambiguous, with delicate choices of color, a skill she mastered by the end of her career. Mabel Alvarez continued to paint through her sixties and seventies, and to exhibit regularly, including with the Women Painters West organization. She is noted for her important role in the emergence of Southern California Modernism and is remembered for her contribution to California Impressionism as well as to figure, still life and portrait painting.

Mabel Alvarez died on March 13, 1985 at the age of 93.

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Overview of the Collection

Scope and Contents

The papers of Mabel Alvarez (1898-1985) measure 2.3 linear feet and date from 1898-1987. The collection documents both her painting career as well as her personal life through correspondence, original writings, sketches, printed material, diaries and journals, financial records, and scrapbooks.

Arrangement and Series Description

The collection is arranged into eleven series based primarily on document type and chronological order.

Subjects and Names

This collection is indexed in the online catalog of the Archives of American Art under the following index terms. People, families and organizations are listed under "Subjects" when they are the topic of collection contents and under "Names" when they are creators or contributors.


  • Macdonald-Wright, Stanton, 1890-1973


  • Art, Modern -- 20th century -- California
  • Painting, Modern -- 20th century -- California
  • Portrait painting -- 20th century -- California
  • Women painters -- California -- Los Angeles
  • Portrait painters -- California -- Los Angeles

Types of Materials:

  • Works of art
  • Photographs
  • Sketchbooks
  • Diaries


  • San Joaquin Pioneer Museum
  • Otis Art Institute
  • Honolulu Academy of Arts


The Mabel Alvarez papers were donated to the Archives of American Art in 1988 by Glenn Basset, art dealer and friend of Mabel Alvarez.

How the Collection was Processed

The collection was originally processed by Olivia Evens in 1991. A finding aid and reel/box inventory was completed by Rosa M. Fernandez in September 2000.

How to Use the Collection

Restrictions on Use

The collection is open for research. Use of microfilmed material requires an appointment and is limited to the Washington, D.C. research facility.

Ownership & Literary Rights

The Mabel Alvarez 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 collection is available on 35mm microfilm reels 5672-5675 at Archives of American Art offices, and through interlibrary loan.

How to Cite this Collection

Mabel Alvarez papers, 1898-1987. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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Detailed Description and Container Inventory

Series 1: Biographical Material, 1907-1970
(Box 1; 3 folders; reel 5672)

Biographical material includes passports, a copy of a birth certificate, handwritten genealogy of the Alvarez family, list of art awards received between 1943 and 1969, and a high school report card from Berkeley High School dated 1907.

Box Reel
1 5672 General, 1907, 1970, undated
1 5672 Art Awards, 1943-1969
1 5672 Passports, 1924, 1954, 1970, undated

Series 2: Letters, 1909-1978
(Box 1; 1 folder; reel 5672)

Found are personal letters, including one from Mabel's father, Luis F. Alvarez, as well as letters from art institutions regarding art exhibitions. Institutions include the University of California, Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Museum, Honolulu Academy of Arts, the Otis Art Institute, and the San Joaquin Pioneer Museum.

Box Reel
1 5672 Letters, 1909-1978

Series 3: Writings, 1898, 1910-1935, undated
(Box 1; 11 folders; reel 5672)

Found are original and unpublished writings by Alvarez such as poetry and short stories.

Box Reel
1 5672 Elementary and High School Writings, 1910, 1922, undated
1 5672 High School Writings, 1910-1911, undated
1 5672 "Late Flowering", undated
(3 folders)
1 5672 "Autumn Twilight" and "Cross Currents," undated
1 5672 "Broken Enchantment," "Experiment," "Father's Childhood in Spain," and "How I kept House in Hawaii," undated
1 5672 "A Man for Sister," "Merry Christmas" and "Mrs. Powell," undated
1 5672 "The Old Doctor," "The Poisonous Flower" and "Romance," undated
1 5672 "Tourist and Home," "Heat and Bath," and "The Two Virgins," undated
1 5672 Miscellaneous Writings, 1898, 1929, 1935

Series 4: Printed Material, 1917-1987, undated
(Box 1; 10 folders; reel 5672)

Found are exhibition catalogs of Alvarez's solo or group exhibitions including a catalog for the exhibition, Painting and Sculpture from 16 American Cities from the 1933 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Publications such as The American Magazine of Art, Art in America, Art Forum, and Art News are also found. Newspaper clippings feature articles on the professional lives of Alvarez's brother and nephew and also critical reviews of Alvarez's exhibitions.

Box Reel
1 5672 Exhibition Catalogs, 1917-1984
(6 folders)
1 5672 Newspaper Clippings, 1927-1987
(3 folders)
1 5672 Publications, 1918, 1923, 1931, 1934, 1955, 1964
(3 folders)

Series 5: Sketchbooks, 1949-1950, undated
(Box 1; 2 folders; reel 5672)

Sketchbooks contain pencil and color pencil drawings as well as scattered notes. One sketchbook, although undated, contain sketches completed during her stay at a nursing home.

Box Reel
1 5672 Sketchbook I, 1949-1950
1 5672 Sketchbook II, undated

Series 6: Expense Books, 1914-1977
(Box 1; 1 folder; reel 5672)

Included are six small notebooks with handwritten notations of personal finances and art works sold including final selling price.

Box Reel
1 5672 Expense Books, 1914-1977

Series 7: Notebooks on Exhibition and Paintings, 1921-1953
(Box 1; 1 folder; reel 5673)

Found are four notebooks containing sketches of animals, landscapes, and people as well as notes from books and lectures by Stanton Macdonald Wright.

Box Reel
1 5673 Notebooks, 1921-1953

Series 8: Diaries and Journals, 1909-1984
(Box 1-2; 15 folders; reels 5673-5675)

The largest series of the collection, these personal diaries and journals record daily activities and personal thoughts and feelings. Scattered throughout the diaries and journals are letters and sketches.

Box Reel
1 5673 Diaries and Journals, 1909-1938
(3 folders)
Box Reel
2 5674-5675 Diaries and Journals, 1925-1984
(12 folders)

Series 9: Address Books, undated
(Box 2; 2 folders; reel 5675)

Box Reel
2 5675 Address Books, undated
(2 folders)

Series 10: Photographs, 1905-1983, undated
(Box 2; 7 folders; reel 5675)

Box Reel
2 5675 Photographs, 1905-1983, undated
(5 folders)

Series 11: Scrapbooks, 1898-1984
(Box 3; 2 scrapbooks; reel 5675)

Included are two scrapbooks, one dismantled, containing mostly newspaper clippings and scattered letters, exhibition announcements, drawings, and other material.

Box Reel
3 (sol) 5675 Scrapbooks, 1898-1984