René d'Harnoncourt papers, 1921-1983

D'Harnoncourt, Rene, b. 1901 d. 1968
Curator, Museum director
Active in New York, N.Y.

Collection size: 2.4 linear feet

Collection Summary: The papers of art curator, lecturer, and museum director, René d'Harnoncourt (1901-1968), document d'Harnoncourt's activities, primarily in the 1930s and 1940s, particularly as they relate to Mexican and Native American art. D'Harnoncourt's career, including his arrival in Mexico in 1925, his curation of the exhibitions, "Mexican Art" (1930-1932), and "Indian Art of the United States" (1941), and his work for the Department of the Interior's Indian Arts and Crafts Board from 1937-1944, are documented in small amounts of biographical material and correspondence, published writings, printed material, scrapbooks, photographs of d'Harnoncourt and colleagues, and photographs of works of art. The collection also contains a drawing of d'Harnoncourt, and photocopies of caricatures of d'Harnoncourt and others.

Biographical material consists of d'Harnoncourt's official Austrian departure documents for his travel to Mexico in 1925; pages of an appointment book from 1932; and notes on d'Harnoncourt's career that index publications in which he is mentioned amongst other things, prepared by Sarah d'Harnoncourt.

Correspondence and memoranda relate primarily to the Mexican Arts exhibition, (1930-1932) sponsored by the American Federation of Arts; the "Art in America" radio program, organized by the American Federation of Arts with the cooperation of the Museum of Modern Art; d'Harnoncourt's part time teaching position at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville; and his appointment as General Manager of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board. Later correspondence references research on d'Harnoncourt's work for the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, and includes information on d'Harnoncourt, provided in response to inquiries about him.

Writings by d'Harnoncourt include published articles on Mexican and Indian arts and crafts, a 1969 reprint of d'Harnoncourt's and Frederic H. Douglas's expanded version of the catalog for Indian Art of the United States, a foreword, and two seminar/symposium papers. Unpublished writings comprise two typescripts. The series also includes several writings by others.

Printed material includes announcements and exhibition catalogs, documentation of the "Art in America Program," published books belonging to and/or referencing dHarnoncourt, Department of Interior publications, including some issued by the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, Museum of Modern art press releases, news clippings relating to d'Harnoncourt and his activities, and miscellaneous printed material.

Additional clippings from a dismantled scrapbook(s) document the Mexican Arts exhibition.

Artwork and artifacts include one original sketch in colored pencil of d'Harnoncourt by Austrian artist, Silverbauer, photocopies of caricatures and doodles by d'Harnoncourt, Miguel Covarrubias, and Caroline Durieux, and two Indian Arts and Crafts Board weaving samples.

Photographs are of d'Harnoncourt, Sarah d'Harnoncourt, and friends and colleagues. They include a photograph of d'Harnoncourt by Manuel Alvarez-Bravo; snapshots of others including Fred Davis; Sarah d'Harnoncourt and folk art specialist, Victor Fosado; fellow Indian Arts and Crafts Board members, architect Henry Klumb, Alice Marriot, and anthropologist, author, and tribal council member, Gladys Tantaquidgeon. Also found are three photographs of Mexican Art exhibition installations; fourteen photographs of Native Americans; three photographs showing covers and/or fronts pieces of d'Harnoncourts books, "Beast, Bird and Fish," "Mexicana," "The Hole in the Wall," and "The Painted Pig"; and photographs of artwork included in the Mexican Art exhibition and an exhibition of Australian Aboriginal Cave Paintings (1947).

Biographical/Historical Note: Art curator, lecturer, and museum director, René dHarnoncourt (1901-1968), was an authority on Native American art and Mexican arts and crafts. Director of the Museum of Modern Art, 1949-1948. Born Vienna, Austria. D'Harnoncourt was co-author for "Indian Art of the United States" and "The Painted Pig" (1930).

The collection was donated by d'Harnoncourt's widow, Sarah d'Harnoncourt, in 1975, 1981, and 1984.

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

How to Use this Collection

  • The collection is available on legacy 35 mm microfilm reels 3830-3831 at Archives of American Art offices, and through interlibrary loan. Researchers should note that the arrangement on microfilm may not match the arrangement described in this finding aid.
  • Reels 2919-2931: Authorization to publish requires written permission from Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd St., New York, N.Y. 10019. Museum of Modern Art requires full citation to include microfilm reel and frame numbers, and reference to MoMA as the owner of the RenÔe d'Harnoncourt papers.
  • Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C. Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.
  • For more information on using the Archives’ resources, see the FAQ or Ask Us.

Related Materials

The bulk of RenÔe d'Harnoncourt's papers are in the Museum Archives of the Museum of Modern Art. The Museum's 59.25 linear feet document, in particular, d'Harnoncourt's years with the Museum from 1944-1968. That collection also includes papers donated by Sarah d'Harnoncourt which relate to d'Harnoncourt's time in Mexico, from 1925-1932, and his work in the United States from 1933-1944. While these holdings may overlap occasionally with the papers in the Archives of American Art (some items at the Archives of American Art, for instance, may be photocopies of originals at the Museum), the bulk of the Archives' d'Harnoncourt papers appear to be distinct from those at the Museum.
Eleven linear feet of the Museum of Modern Art's d'Harnoncourt papers were lent to the Archives of American Art for microfilming in 1983. These included papers generated by d'Harnoncourt during his professional affiliation with the Museum, such as: personal files; three appointment notebooks; professional files including Latin American correspondence; exhibition files; files documenting outside affiliations; and departmental and special event files. The papers were returned to the Museum of Modern Art after microfilming. The microfilm is available on Archives' legacy microfilm reels 2919-2931, but is not described in the Container Listing of this finding aid.
An oral history of RenÔe d'Harnoncourt, interviewed by Isabel Grossner in 1968, can be found at Columbia University, Oral History Research Office, 801 Butler Library, 535 West 114 Street, New York, NY 10027.

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