Otto Wittmann papers, 1932-1996

A Finding Aid to the Otto Wittmann Papers, 1932-1996, in the Archives of American Art, by Jayna M. Hanson

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

Table of Contents:

Biographical Information

Otto Wittmann (1911-2001) was director of the Toledo Museum of Art in Toledo Ohio from 1959-1976. He left Toledo to work as an arts consultant, trustee, and acting chief curator for the Getty Museum in Los Angeles from 1978 though 1989. During World War II, he served in the Army Air Force and as a special intelligence officer assigned to locate and return works of art looted by the Nazis.

Otto Wittmann was born in Kansas City, Missouri on September 1, 1911. He graduated from Harvard University with a fine arts degree in 1933 and returned to Kansas City to become the Curator of Prints at the Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art, the first art museum in the city. Later, he enrolled at Skidmore College for graduate studies and worked at The Hyde Collection in Glen Falls, New York.

During World War II, Wittmann served as a Major with the Air Force in the Air Transport Command. He was transferred to the Art Looting Investigation Unit (ALIU) in Washington, D.C. under the Office of Strategic Services. He spent long periods in Paris and Munich assisting with looted art recovery, investigating transactions in Sweden and Switzerland, and working with the collection centers set up in France. Years later, at the Toledo Museum of Art, he curated an exhibition of recovered artwork, and invited the U.S. Army members that assisted with protecting the artwork.

After the war, Wittmann accepted a position at the Toledo Museum of Art (TMA), working there for thirty years and as director from 1959-1976. During his tenure, he tripled the museum's collection of artwork and expanded its exhibition space. Under his direction, the museum was one of the first American museums to display sculpture, painting, furniture, and decorative arts in one setting.

In 1978, the Getty Museum in Los Angeles hired Wittmann as an acquisitions consultant as the museum began to spend the huge billion dollar trust left behind by J. P. Getty. Many institutions and the art market in general were nervous that the Getty's new and huge purchasing power would drive up prices and shut out other institutions and museums from acquiring works of art. Wittmann, however, steadied the Getty's purchases and kept prices competitive enough so that other museums could outbid him if they desired. Within a year, he was appointed to trustee and, shortly thereafter, as acting chief curator until 1983. The Getty named Wittmann a trustee emeritus in 1989.

Otto Wittmann was among the first museum professionals to encourage the establishment of Federal programs for the arts. He was one of the founding members of the National Council on the Arts and served on the museum advisory panel for the National Endowment for the Arts and on the arts advisory panel for the Internal Revenue Service. He was the first chairman of the Advisory Committee to the Federal Council of Arts and Humanities responsible for implementing the intial programs of the Federal Arts Indemnity Act. He was active in many national professional arts associations.

In 1947, Otto Wittmann married Margaret Hill, with whom he had two sons, John and William. Wittmannn died in 1997 in Montecito, California.

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Overview of the Collection

Scope and Contents

The papers of museum director, art consultant and curator Otto Wittmannn (1911-2001)date from 1932 to 1996 and measure 10.1 linear feet. The bulk of the collection consists of correspondence and other files concerning Wittmannn's career as Director of the Toledo Museum of Art and as trustee and acting chief curator of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Eleven scrapbooks contain materials primarily relating to the activities of the Toledo Museum of Art, but also contain documentation of Wittmannn's World War II service in the Art Looting Investigation Unit (ALIU) of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the present day CIA. Also found within the papers are files relating to his work with the National Endownment of the Arts, Arts and Artifacts Indemnification Committee, scattered biographical information, and personal correspondence.

Biographical information includes a biographical sketch and an index of an interview of Wittmannn by Richard Candida Smith. Correspondence is mostly personal and with family, friends, and colleagues.

Professional files include Wittmann's files from the Toledo Museum of Art that consist of general operations and administrative files from the director's office. Wittmann's role as an art consultant and advisor to the Owens Corning Fiberglass Corporation is documented, as well as his many affliations with professional arts associations, arts organizations, and other museums and institutions.

Files documenting Wittmann's consulting and curatorial work for the Getty Museum are arranged in a separate series and consist of chronological correspondence and scattered expense reports. Correpondence concerns the development of the Getty Museum's early art collecting policy and the general formation of the museum.

There seven files relating to Wittmann's work for the National Endowment for the Arts, Arts and Artifacts Indemnification Committee.

Eleven scrapbooks dating from 1932 to 1977 focus on a variety of subjects, including the Hyde Collection, Skidmore College, the U.S. Army Air Force, the Toledo Museum of Art, and the Getty Museum. Found within the scrapbooks are mixed formats, such as correspondence, biographical information, clippings, brochures, and photographs. The scrapbook dating from 1932 to April 1959 contains scattered photographs from Wittmannn's service in the Art Looting Investigation Unit (ALIU) of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services.

Arrangement and Series Description

The collection is arranged as 6 series:

Subjects and Names

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


  • Hyde Collection
  • J. Paul Getty Museum
  • National Endowment for the Arts
  • Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corporation
  • Skidmore College
  • Toledo Museum of Art
  • United States.--Army Air Forces
  • United States.--Office of Strategic Services


  • Art consultants
  • Art museum directors--Ohio--Toledo
  • Art museums--Ohio--Toledo
  • Art--Societies, etc.--United States
  • Curators--Ohio--Toledo
  • Museum directors--Ohio-Toledo

Types of Materials:

  • Photographs
  • Scrapbooks


Otto Wittmann donated his papers to the Archives of American Art in 1991 and 1995.

Separated and Related Materials

The Archives of American Art has an oral history interview with Otto Wittmann conducted by Paul Cummings on August 19-20, 1976, and another conducted by Thomas Carr Howe on October 25, 1976.

How the Collection was Processed

The Otto Wittmann papers were processed to a minimal level and described by Jayna Hanson in 2012 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art. The goal for minimal-level processing at the Archives of American Art is to provide access to collections as quickly as possible while maintaining high standards for arrangement, description and preservation. Generally, materials are minimally rearranged, existing folder titles are retained, and all materials are rehoused in acid-free folders and boxes. Individual items within folders may not be fully arranged or verified for content. Staples and other fasteners may not always be removed, but materials are removed from binders or other damaging housing conditions when necessary.

How to Use the Collection

Restrictions on Use

Use of original papers requires an appointment.

Ownership & Literary Rights

The Otto Wittmann 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.

How to Cite this Collection

Otto Wittmann papers, 1932-1996. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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Detailed Description and Container Inventory

Series 1: Biographical Information, 1995-1996
(Box 1; 2 folders)

Found is a biographical sketch used by Otto Wittmann for his museum consulting business and an index of an interview of Wittmannn by Richard Candida Smith.

Box Folder
1 1 Biographical Sketch, circa 1995
1 2 Index of Interview, by Richard Candida Smith, 1995-1996

Series 2: Correspondence, 1959-1990
(Box 1; 0.6 linear feet)

Personal correspondence is primarily with family, friends, and colleagues, including colleagues at the Getty and the Toledo Museum of Art. Also found are letters from various friends and museum professionals congratulating Otto Wittmann on becoming the Director of the Toledo Museum of Art and his responses.

Box Folder
1 3 A-C, 1984-1990
1 4 D-J, 1982-1990
1 5 K-M, 1977-1989
1 6 N-Q, 1980-1990
1 7 R-S, 1983-1989
1 8 T-Z, 1980-1989
1 9-12 Congratulations, 1959, 1995

Series 3: Professional Files, 1947-1986
(Boxes 1-6, OV 18; 5.2 linear feet)

Numerous files documenting Wittmann's professional work with the Toledo Musuem of Art, consulting work with the Owens-Illinois and Owens Corning Fiberglas Company, and his many professional affliations with organizations are found here. The files contain a wide variety of documents, including correspondence, printed materials, and receipts. Files are found for the American Association of Museums, American Society of the French Legion of Honor, Art Advisory Panel of the Commission of Internal Revenue, Art Dealers Association of America, Association of Art Museum Directors, The Century Association, College Art Association, International Council of Museums, The Museums Association of Great Britain, National Collection of Fine Arts Commission, National Council on the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities.

These files reflect the creator's original order and folder titles. They are arranged primarily by name of organization or corporation.

Box Folder
1 Operations Files
1 13 Toledo Museum of Art History, 1949-1976
1 14 Memos for the Record, 1977-1984
1 15 Memos to Staff, 1977-1985
1 16 Memos to/from Roger Mandle, circa 1980
1 17 Director, Wittmann, Otto: Biographies, 1968-1981
1 18 Retirement, Mr. Wittmann, 1977
1 19 Director, Extension Activities 1966-1977
1 20 Volunteer Workers and Art Museum Docents, 1947-1984
Box Folder
2 Owens-Illinois Files
2 1-2 Consultant Files, 1980-1983
2 3 Correspondence, 1983-1984
2 4 Headquarters, Fountain, 1979-1982
(Oversized material housed in OV18)
2 Owens Corning Fiberglas, Art Committee
2 5 History and Procedures, 1968-1979
2 6-7 Correspondence, 1978-1985
2 8 Exhibitions, 1977-1979
2 9-10 Purchase and Aquisitions, 1978-1983
2 11 Meeting, 23 January 1980, 1979-1980
2 12-14 Proposed Trip to California, 1980
2 15-16 Articles on Artists in OCF Foundation, 1975-1979
2 Associations and Organizations,
2 17 Alliance Francaise de Toledo, 1979-1983
2 18 Art Dealers Association of America, 1979
2 19-21 American Association of Museums, 1977-1983
Box Folder
3 Associations and Organizations,
3 1 American Association of Museums, 1977-1983
3 2 American Society of the French Legion of Honor, INC., 1967-1983
3 3-5 Association of Art Museum Directors, 1977-1982
3 6 Association of Art Museum Directors, Membership Lists, 1978-1981
3 7-17 Association of Art Museum Directors, Meetings, 1977-1984
3 18-20 The Century Association, 1970-1983
3 21 College Art Association, 1977-1979
3 22-23 Internal Revenue Service, Art Advisory Panel, 1970-1982
Box Folder
4 Associations and Organizations,
4 1 International Council of Museums, 1976-1982
4 2 Museum Presidents Conference, 1978-1982
4 3 Museum Services Institute, 1977-1978
4 4-5 National Collection of Fine Arts Commission, 1978-1979
4 6-7 National Council on the Arts, 1965, 1974
4 8-10 National Endowment for the Arts, 197-1985
4 11-15 National Endowment for the Arts, Museum Advisory Panel, 1972-1976
4 16-21 National Endowment for Humanities, 1961-1981
4 22-24 National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities, 1977-1978
Box Folder
5 Associations and Organizations,
5 1 The Toledo Club, 1978-1986
5 2-3 Travellers' Club, 1968-1985
5 Museums and Institutions,
5 4-5 American Friends of Attingham, 1976-1985
5 6 Art Institute of Chicago, 1977-1982
5 7 Boston, 1977-1982
5 8 Cleveland, 1978-1984
5 9 Dart Industries, INC., 1977-1980
5 10 Detroit Institute, 1977-1984
5 11 Dixon Art Gallery, 1975-1983
5 12-13 England, General, 1973-1984
5 14 Foreign, General, 1977-1984
5 15 France, General, 1977-1983
5 16 Great Britain, 1973-1984
5 17 Holland, General, 1977-1982
5 18-19 Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1978-1983
5 20 Museum Directors in America, circa 1979
5 21-24 Museums, Miscellaneous, circa 1970-1983
Box Folder
6 Museums and Institutions,
6 1-2 National Gallery of Art, 1978-1982
6 3-4 New York, Miscellaneous, 1978-1982
6 5 Palm Beach, 1978-1983
6 6 Philadelphia, 1977-1980
6 7 Rochester Museum and Science Center, 1981
6 8 Seattle, Washington, 1975
6 9 Switzerland, 1977-1982
6 10 Texas, 1978-1985
6 11 Toledo, 1977-1984
6 12 University of Michigan, 1979-1985
6 13 Washington, District of Columbia, 1977-1984
6 Miscellaneous,
6 14-16 Memoranda, 1977-1982
6 17 "Community Art Centers" Information File, circa 1970s
OV18 Oversized Blueprint of Fountain, circa 1982
(See Box 2, F4)

Series 4: Getty Museum Files, 1978-1991
(Boxes 6-9; 1.7 linear feet)

Found here are primarily chronological files of copies of outgoing letters from Otto Wittmann to the Getty Museum staff and colleagues when he served as a consultant, trustee, and acting chief curator for the museum. The letters focus on the early formation of the Getty Museum including policies and art acquisitions. There are also travel expense reports.

Box Folder
6 18 Chronological Correspondence, 1978-Dec 1981
6 19 Chronological Correspondence, 1982 Jan-Apr
6 20 Chronological Correspondence, 1982 May-Oct
Box Folder
7 1 Chronological Correspondence, 1982 Nov-Dec
7 2 Chronological Correspondence, 1983 Jan-Mar
7 3 Chronological Correspondence, 1983 Mar
7 4-5 Chronological Correspondence, 1983 Apr-Jun
7 6-7 Chronological Correspondence, 1983 Jul-Dec
7 8 Chronological Correspondence, 1984 Jan-Mar
7 9 Chronological Correspondence, 1984 Apr-Dec
7 10 Chronological Correspondence, 1985 Jan-Apr
7 11 Chronological Correspondence, 1985 May-Dec
7 12 Chronological Correspondence, 1986 Jan-Apr
7 13 Chronological Correspondence, 1986 May-Dec
7 14 Chronological Correspondence, 1987 Jan-May
7 15 Chronological Correspondence, 1987 Jun-Dec
7 16 Chronological Correspondence, 1988 Jan-Apr
7 17 Chronological Correspondence, 1988 May-Dec
7 18-19 Chronological Correspondence, 1989
Box Folder
8 1 Chronological Correspondence, 1990-1991
8 2-3 Expense Reports, 1978-1984
8 4-5 Expense Reports, 1985-1991
8 6 Memoranda, Blue File Copies, 1980-1981
Box Folder
9 1 Memoranda, Blue File Copies, 1981-1982

Series 5: National Endowment for the Arts, Arts and Artifacts Indemnity Files, 1976
(Box 9; 0.2 linear feet)

There are seven files of applications from museums for grants from the Arts and Artifacts Indemnity program under the National Endowment for the Arts, for which Otto Wittmann sat on the committee.

Box Folder
9 2 Advisory Panel Meeting, 1976
9 3 Armand Hammer Collection, 1976
9 4 Corning Museum of Glass, 1976
9 5 International Exhibitions Foundation, 1976
9 6 Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1976
9 7 Nelson Gallery--Atkins Museum, 1976
9 8 Seattle Art Museum, 1976

Series 6: Scrapbooks, 1932-1977
(Boxes 10-17; 2.4 linear feet)

Eleven scrapbooks date from 1932 to 1977. Each scrapbook is arranged chronologically and typically includes biographical information, correspondence, invitations, clippings, brochures, and scattered photographs. Wittmann's service during and immediately following World War II, including his work with the Art Looting Investigation Unit of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services is represented in the scrapbook dating from 1932 to April 1959, but is scattered. The other scrapbooks document Wittmann's career and work for the Hyde Collection, the Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art, the Toledo Musuem of Art, and the Getty Museum. Photographs are mostly of receptions at the Toledo Museum of Art.

Box Folder
10 1 Scrapbook, 1932-1959 Apr
Box Folder
11 1 Scrapbook, 1959 May-1963 Jan
Box Folder
12 1 Scrapbook, 1963 Feb-1965 Jun
Box Folder
13 1 Scrapbook, 1965 Sep-1967 Nov
Box Folder
14 1 Scrapbook, 1967 Dec-1970 Apr
14 2 Scrapbook, 1970 Jun-1971 Oct
Box Folder
15 1 Scrapbook, 1971 Oct-1973 Oct
15 2 Scrapbook, 1973 Nov-1975 Jul
Box Folder
16 1 Scrapbook, 1975 Jul-1976 Oct
16 2 Scrapbook, 1976 Nov-Aug 1977
Box Folder
17 1 Scrapbook, 1977 Oct