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Adolf Dehn papers, 1912-1987

Adolf Dehn papers, 1912-1987

Dehn, Adolf Arthur, 1895-1968

Painter, Printmaker

Collection Information

Size: 6.6 linear feet

Summary: The papers of printmaker and painter Adolf Dehn measure 6.6 linear feet and date from 1912-1987. The collection contains extensive correspondence, as well as writings, exhibition announcements, catalogs, clippings, invoices, receipts, legal documents, scrapbooks, artwork, and photographs. There is also scattered correspondence of Virginia Dehn, mostly concerning her husband Adolf Dehn.

Found within the biographical materials are several address books, official travel documents, exhibition price lists, and a biographical sketch.

Correspondence, both personal and business, makes up the bulk of this collection. Dehn maintained long friendships with many fellow artists and his correspondence includes letters from Aaron Bohrod, Federico Castellon, Albert Christ-Janer, Wanda Gág, Gustav Goetsch, George Grosz, Reginald Marsh, Elizabeth Olds, Abraham Rattner, Boardman Robinson, Frederick Shane, William Smith, and Benton Spruance. Additional notable correspondents include print dealer and curator Carl Zigrosser; journalists Max Eastman, Joseph Freeman, Frederick Kuh; editor Scofield Thayer, and his former wife, the Russian dancer Mura Dehn (neé Tsiperovitch). Business correspondence includes letters from art schools, associations, museums, and galleries affiliated with Dehn, including the Wehye Gallery; Associated American Artists, a gallery that promoted American art to the middle classes; and the Kennedy Gallery, which represented the Dehn estate upon the artist's death. There is also correspondence from companies and organizations that commissioned commercial work from Dehn, such as greeting card publisher, American Artists Group. Finally the correspondence of Virginia Dehn includes letters to and from the University of Missouri Press related to the publication of Adolf Dehn Drawings and condolence cards and letters from friends and associates after the Adolf Dehn's death in May 1968.

Writings include manusripts for Adolf Dehn's manual on painting technique, "Watercolor, Gouache, and Casein Painting," (Studio Publications, 1955), as well as his entries on technique and watercolor painting for Encyclopedia Britannica. Writings by others includes the catalog, "Adolf Dehn Drawings," prepared by his wife Virginia Dehn, and published in 1971, by the University of Missouri Press. There is also a journal with handwritten poems attributed to Eileen Hall Lake.

Printed materials consists of exhibition announcements and catalogs from galleries featuring Dehn's work including the Wehye Gallery and Associated American Artists; art school brochures and newsletters from programs which Dehn attended or taught; and newspaper and magazine clippings including examples of his editorial cartoons, which appeared in "The Liberator," "The New Yorker," and "Vanity Fair," among other publications as well as clippings of news items related to the artist. This series also includes examples of Dehn's commercial work, such as book covers, calendars, and Christmas cards. Additional similar printed materials can be found in the scrapbooks. Artwork consists of only a few sketches attributed to Dehn, others to Eileen Lake Hall, and an etching by S.W. Hayter.

Dehn is well documented through numerous photographs, both alone and with others, including a portrait by the renowned photographer André Kertész. Additional vintage photographs include Dehn with family members, friends, and a series of photographs taken with his wife, Virginia Dehn, at Atelier Desjobert, where he had been making lithographs since the 1920s.

Biographical/Historical Note

Adolf Dehn (1895-1968) was a painter and printmaker, in New York, N.Y. Married Russian dancer Mura, in 1929, and Virginia, an artist, in 1947.


The Adolf Dehn papers were donated in several installments from 1966 to 1985 by Adolf Dehn and his wife Virginia. Dehn's sisters, Viola Dehn Tiala and Olivia Dehn Mitchell, separately donated additional materials in 1971 and 1972 respectively. Finally in 1989, Lillian Morrison, a friend and editor, donated a published book of Mura Dehn's poetry and a four page draft of a letter signed by Adolf Dehn.

Related Materials


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

A Finding Aid to the Adolf Dehn Papers,
, in the Archives of American Art
Biographical Note
Adolf Dehn (1895-1968) was well-known for his drawings, lithographs and watercolors which satirically chronicled the social and political milieu of his times, as well as poetic landscapes, many of which depicted the rolling hills and farmlands of his native Midwest. Although he worked mostly in New York, Dehn also spent substantial time traveling and working in Europe, the Middle East, South America, and the American mid-west.
Dehn was born on a farm in Waterville, Minnesota on November 22, 1895, he began his formal art education in 1914 at the Minneapolis School of Art (currently known as the Minneapolis College of Art and Design). As a student, his drawings were featured in the school's humor journal,
The Minne-Ha-Ha
and by 1917 he had published his first drawing in one of his favorite political journals,
The Masses
. Later that year he and fellow Minneapolis School of Art student Wanda Gág were among a select group of art students nationwide who won scholarships to the Art Students League of New York. After only eight months in New York, however, Dehn was drafted into the Army to serve in the final months of World War I, but he proclaimed himself as a conscientious objector and was sent to Camp Wadsworth in South Carolina for several months.
Dehn returned to New York, where his friend and mentor Boardman Robinson introduced him to lithography through the master printer George Miller and brought him to the Weyhe Gallery to meet Carl Zigrosser, an avid supporter of American printmakers. However, he soon left New York for Europe in September 1921 where he spent most of the following eight years. There he traveled with his sketchbooks to the cafes and opera houses of Berlin, Paris, and Vienna, as well as on hiking trips in the Alps. He became friends with the poet E.E. Cummings, Scofield Thayer, editor of
The Dial
, who published many of his drawings, and met the German artist, George Grosz, whose work he so admired. In addition to
The Dial
, his satirical drawings of jazz-age entertainments and European cafe life also appeared in ,
The Liberator
Vanity Fair
, and
. Finally during his stint in Europe, Dehn met and married the Russian dancer Mura Tsiperovitch. They were married in Vienna in 1926, but divorced sometime in the early 1930s.
Unfortunately Dehn's return to the United States coincided with the Great Depression of 1929 and sales of his work were slim. However in the 1930s,
The New Yorker
began to publish his work. He continued to work in lithography and returned to Paris to work at the Atelier Desjobert, the print studio with whom he worked most closely throughout his life. In the late 1930s, Dehn began working in watercolors, mostly rural landscapes, and had a one man show of works in his new medium at Weyhe Gallery in 1938. In 1939 Dehn traveled through the Southwest and Mexico on his first Guggenheim Fellowship (he was awarded his second in 1951).
By the 1940s Dehn was an active member of both the American Artists Group and Associated American Artists; both organizations sought to popularize contemporary American Art, primarily through reproductions of fine art prints and commercial use of artists' designs on greeting card, calendars, and even wall paper. Appreciation for his lithographs and watercolors grew, and along with it his recognition. He also taught art classes a few summers; in the late 1930s at Stephens College, Columbia, Missouri where his friend Albert Janner-Christ was head of the art department and in the early 1940s at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, where friend and mentor Boardman Robinson was the director. In 1955 he published
Watercolor, Gouache, and Casein Painting
, a manual on technique. Throughout the rest of his life he continued to travel, not only returning to Europe, but also visiting Afganistan, Cuba, Haiti, and a trip to Venuzuala on assignment from Standard Oil to document the oil industry there. On many of his later trips, he was accompanied by his wife, fellow artist, Virginia Engleman Dehn, whom he had married in November 1947.
Near the end of his long career, Dehn was elected in 1961 to the National Academy of Design as a full academician. He was later elected to the National Academy of Arts and Letters. After his death in 1968, his wife Virginia worked with the University of Missouri Press on the catalog
Adolf Dehn Drawings
(Columbia: University of Missouri, 1971).
The collection is arranged into 8 series:
Series 1: Biographical Material, circa 1920-1968 (Box 1; 10 folders)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1919-1982 (Boxes 1-4; 3.75 linear feet)
Series 3: Writings, circa 1920-1971 (Boxes 4-5; 0.25 linear feet)
Series 4: Financial Records, 1936-1965 (Box 5; 0.5 linear feet)
Series 5: Printed Materials, circa 1915-1987 (Boxes 5-6; 1.2 linear feet)
Series 6: Scrapbooks, 1912-1968(Boxes 6-7; 0.5 linear feet)
Series 7: Artwork, circa 1920-1945 (Box 6; 3 folders)
Series 8: Photographs, circa 1912-1961 (Boxes 6 and 8; 7 folders)
The Adolf Dehn papers were donated in several installments from 1966 to 1985 by Adolf Dehn and his wife Virginia. Dehn's sisters, Viola Dehn Tiala and Olivia Dehn Mitchell, separately donated additional materials in 1971 and 1972 respectively. Finally in 1989, Lillian Morrison, a friend and editor, donated a published book of Mura Dehn's poetry and a four page draft of a letter signed by Adolf Dehn.
Processing Information
Beginning with the first accession in 1966, each accession received preliminary processing sometime after receipt and portions were also also microfilmed reels 283, 287, 1048-1049, and 3134; this film is no longer in circulation. All accessions were merged, re-processed and described in this finding aid by Kathleen Brown in 2009 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

How to Cite This Collection

Adolf Dehn papers, 1912-1987. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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