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Al Hirschfeld papers, 1931-1983

Al Hirschfeld papers, 1931-1983

Hirschfeld, Al, 1903-2003


Representative image for Al Hirschfeld papers, 1931-1983

This site provides access to the papers of Al Hirschfeld in the Archives of American Art that were digitized in 2010. The papers have been scanned in their entirety, and total 1,004 images.

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

Collection Information

Size: 0.9 linear ft.

Summary: The collection measures 0.9 linear feet, dates from 1931-1983, and documents the career of caricaturist Al Hirschfeld. Found within the papers are letters, business records, writings, artwork, printed material, and photographs.

Letters are from friends and colleagues, and the celebrities, writiers and other subjects of Hirschfeld's drawings. A small majority of letters are from Brooks Atkinson, John Mason Brown, Edward Chodorov, Beauford Delaney, Roger K. Fruse, and Charles F. Lowe.

Business records include a receipt for artwork delivered, a notice of probate on the will of Billy Rose, a loan agreement from the Studio Museum in Harlem for a work by Beauford Delaney, and a contract from The Franklin Library for a portrait of Mencken. Writings by Hirschfeld consist of brief typescripts of film and theater critiques.

Artwork consists of a sketchbook of caricatures of theater performers, a sketchbook of images from travel to Japan, loose sketches, and drawings by children inspired by a visit to see Hirschfeld.

Also found within the papers are 11 folders of clippings, posters, and miscellaneous printed material. Photographs are of Hirschfeld, his wife, and a drawing.

Biographical/Historical Note

Al Hirschfeld (1903-2003) was a caricaturist from New York, N.Y.


Donated 1983 by Al Hirschfeld and by dealer George Goodstadt.


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

A Finding Aid to the Al Hirschfeld Papers,
, in the Archives of American Art
Biographical Note
Albert Hirschfeld was born on June 21, 1903 in St. Louis, Missouri, the youngest of the three sons of Isaac Hirschfeld and his Russian-born wife Rebecca.
Al Hirschfeld studied art in St. Louis and moved with his family to New York City in 1915. He studied at the National Academy of Art and Design and at the Art Students League, but due to financial difficulties in 1919, he took a job at Selznick Pictures where he was given his first art assignments designing advertisements. He was soon made art director, a position he held for several years, until the company went bankrupt. Because the company could not pay him what they owed, Hirschfeld worked for an entire year to earn enough to pay his artists what he, in turn, owed them.
By 1924, Hirschfeld was able to travel to Paris and London, where he studied painting, drawing, and sculpture, and began to grow his distinctive beard. By mid-1925, he had returned to New York City planning to begin a career as a painter, but on December 26, 1926, a sketch he had done of French actor Sacha Guitry was published in the
New York Herald Tribune
. Within two years his theatrical drawings were appearing in five different New York newspapers, including the
New York Times
, for which he worked on a freelance basis until the newspaper offered him a contract in 1990. Hirschfeld's caricatures have also appeared in
The New Yorker
TV Guide
New Masses
Reader's Digest
Rolling Stone
, and many other publications.
Beginning in the late 1920s, Hirschfeld was assigned to capture the essence of each new Broadway play through his line drawings that were published prior to the play's opening night. Performers and the public alike were captivated with the accuracy of his seemingly effortless caricatures. During this time, Hirschfeld also co-edited a satirical journal,
, with Alexander King.
Divorced from his first wife, Florence Ruth Hobby, Hirschfeld met German-born film actress Dolly Haas when he was assigned to do a caricature of her. They were married in May 1943. Two years later, to celebrate the birth of his daughter Nina, Hirschfeld concealed her name in the background of his drawing for the play
Are You With It?
Finding the "Ninas" in his caricatures soon became an American ritual. During World War II, the Department of Defense trained bomber pilots the techniques of camouflage and target-spotting by having them search for the "Ninas" in Hirschfeld's drawings.
For forty years, Hirschfeld collaborated with S. J. Perelman in illustrating and writing books, including
Westward Ha!
Listen to the Mockingbird
, and
The Swiss Family Perelman
. Hirschfeld also provided illustrations for the 1986 memoir of Perelman,
And Did You Once See Sidney Plain?
Other books published by Hirschfeld include
The Speakeasies of 1932
Harlem as Seen by Hirschfeld
Show Business is No Business
, and
Hirschfeld on Line
Hirschfeld also had solo art exhibitions at the Heller Gallery, Hammer Gallery and at the Lincoln Center Museum of the Performing Arts. He received a Special Tony Award "for 50 years of theatrical cartoons" in 1975.
In 1991 and 1994, the United States Postal Service commissioned Hirschfeld to design a series of stamps commemorating comedians and silent film stars respectively. He was not only allowed to be the first artist to put his name on a U. S. postage stamp, but was allowed to include Nina's name within the caricatures as well.
In 1996, an Academy Award-nominated documentary film about Hirschfeld's life,
The Line King
, was released.
Hirschfeld's wife Dolly passed away in September 1994. Three years later, in October 1997, he married Louise Kerz, widow of Broadway producer and designer Leo Kerz. Al Hirschfeld died on January 20, 2003 in New York City.
The collection is arranged as 6 series. All series are arranged chronologically.
Series 1: Letters, 1931-1983 (Boxes 1-2; 1.75 linear feet)
Series 2: Business Records, 1932-1979 (Box 2; 1 folder)
Series 3: Writings, 1937-1973 (Box 2; 3 folders)
Series 4: Art Work, 1967-1977 (Box 2; 4 folders)
Series 5: Printed Material, 1953-1983 (Box 2, OV 3; 11 folders)
Series 6: Photographs, 1965 (Box 2; 1 folder)
Donated 1983 by Al Hirschfeld and by dealer George Goodstadt.
Processing Information
The papers were processed to an intermediate level in November 2006 by Jean Fitzgerald. The collection was digitized in 2010 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Additional Forms Available

The collection was digitized in its entirety in 2010 and is available via the Archives of American Art's website.

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

Al Hirschfeld papers, 1931-1983. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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