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Alfred Victor Frankenstein papers, 1875-1985

Alfred Victor Frankenstein papers, 1875-1985

Frankenstein, Alfred Victor, 1906-1981

Art historian, Art critic

Collection Information

Size: 19.1 linear feet

Summary: The papers of art critic and historian Alfred Victor Frankenstein measure 19.1 linear feet and date from 1875 to 1985. The bulk of the collection consists of Frankenstein's research and writing files on American painting, particularly artists working in the nineteenth-century. There are extensive files on artists John Haberle, William Michael Harnett, and William Sidney Mount. The collection also includes biographical material, correspondence, general writings and notes, professional activities files, personal business records, printed materials, photographs, and unidentified sound recordings.

Biographical/Historical Note

Alfred Victor Frankenstein (1906-1981) was an art historian, writer, art and music critic, and educator active in San Francisco, California. Wrote extensively on American art, particularly William Michael Harnett.

Provenance

Alfred Frankenstein donated some of his papers in 1972, and lent materials for microfilming in 1978. His estate, handled by his son John Frankenstein, donated the materials original loaned as well as additional records in 1981.

Related Materials

Funding

Funding for the processing of this collection was provided by the Smithsonian Institution Collections Care and Preservation Fund.

A Finding Aid to the Alfred Victor Frankenstein Papers, 1875-1985, in the Archives of American Art
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Author
Finding aid prepared by Jayna M. Josefson
Biographical/Historical note
Alfred Victor Frankenstein (1906-1981) was an art historian, writer, art and music critic, and educator active in San Francisco, California.
Frankenstein was born in 1906 in Chicago, Illinois. He studied at the University of Chicago but moved to San Francisco to take a job as a music critic for the
San Francisco Chronicle
. Later, the position expanded to include critiques of visual art and art exhibitions. He remained at the
San Francisco Chronicle
until 1979, concentrating only on art from 1965.
He was an expert on 19th century American still-life and his notable book,
After The Hunt
(1953), examined the American trompe-l'œil movement in late 19th century and early 20th-century through the work of painters William Harnett and John Frederick Peto. He also authored
The World of Copley: 1738-1815
in 1970. Frankenstein curated several major exhibitions, including
American Self-Portraits
(1974) at the National Portrait Gallery and the 1974 World's Fair Exposition exhibition,
Our Land, Our Sky Our Water: an Exhibition of American and Canadian Art.
.
An educator, Frankenstein was a professor of Art History at the University of California at Berkeley (1940-1974), Stanford University (1973-1981), and at Mills College (1945-1974) where he also taught American music.
Scope and Contents note
The papers of art critic and historian Alfred Victor Frankenstein measure 19.1 linear feet and date from 1875 to 1985. The bulk of the collection consists of Frankenstein's research and writing files on American painting, particularly artists working in the nineteenth-century. There are extensive files on artists John Haberle, William Michael Harnett, and William Sidney Mount. The collection also includes biographical material, correspondence, general writings and notes, professional activities files, personal business records, printed materials, photographs, and unidentified sound recordings.
Biographical materials include awards, museum passes from the 1970s, school records, and a scrapbook documenting Frankenstein's career at the
San Francisco Chronicle
. Also found is his father's medical school diploma.
Largely professional in nature, Frankenstein's correspondence is with galleries, museums and institutions, colleges and universities, as well as art historians and museum colleagues including Paul Jenkins, Stanton MacDonald-Wright, and Thomas E. Ripley.
General writings are on subjects such as music, art, California, and the Ronald P. Murdock art collection. It is likely that some writings may be drafts for articles that later appeared in the
San Francisco Chronicle
. Also found are three notebooks, a recorded interview, recorded lectures by Frankenstein and by others.
The bulk of the collection consists of Frankenstein's extensive research files on American sill-life painting in the nineteenth-century. Research topics focus primarily on artists John Haberle (includes sketches by Haberle), William Michael Harnett, William Sidney Mount, and John Frederick Peto; however, some files are found for collectors, dealers, and subjects. Files are found both for the research and writing of Frankenstein's books,
After the Hunt (1953)
and
The World of Copley: 1738-1815
(1970). Contents of the research files vary but many contain correspondence, photographs, notes and writings, provenance research, printed materials, and photocopied and original primary documents. Additional research files are also found in Series 5, Exhibition Files.
Files concerning exhibitions curated or organized by Frankenstein include
Artist Self-Portraits
(1974) at the National Gallery of Art, an exhibition at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, and the World's Fair Exposition exhibition,
Our Land, Our Sky Our Water: an Exhibition of American and Canadian Art
(1974). Files contain loan agreements, gallery plans, photographs, writings, correspondence, and printed materials.
Frankenstein's professional activities files include material about his job as a music critic at the
San Francisco Chronicle
, and records documenting his participation in the American Arts Alliance and the San Francisco Arts Commission. Also found are scattered student writings, lecture notes, and some correspondence from his teaching position at the University of California, Berkeley.
An appraisal for a Joseph Decker work, the estate records of Sylvia Frankenstein, general receipts for purchases and shipping records, and vehicle ownership records comprise Frankenstein's personal business records.
Printed materials include clippings, exhibition announcements and catalogs, magazines, and blank postcards. Also found are eight commercial audio recordings, including a musical piece by Charles Ives on cassette, and six phonograph records that are likely of music. A cassette entitled "Heritage of American Art" may be from an exhibition of the same title held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in 1975. Personal photographs include snapshots of Frankenstein with his family and portraits of him, as well as a photocopy of a family photo album. The bulk of the photographs are of artwork.
There are six unidentified sound recordings.
Provenance
Alfred Frankenstein donated some of his papers in 1972, and lent materials for microfilming in 1978. His estate, handled by his son John Frankenstein, donated the materials original loaned as well as additional records in 1981.
Related Archival Materials note
Also found among the holdings of the Archives of American Art are two oral histories with Alfred Frankenstein, one conducted by Mary McChesney on November 9th, 1965 and the other conducted by Paul Karlstrom from 1978 to 1979. Additionally, Frankenstein donated one sketchbook and twelve loose sketches that are cataloged as a separate collection: the William Harnett sketches, 1870.
Processing Information note
The collection was processed to a minimal level and a finding aid prepared by Jayna Josefson in 2016, with funding provided by the Smithsonian Collections Care and Preservation Fund. The Archives of American Art has implemented minimal processing tactics when possible in order to increase information about and access to more of our collections.
Minimal processing included arrangement to the series, subseries, and folder levels. Generally, items within folders were simply verified with folder titles, but not arranged further. The collection was rehoused in archival containers and folders, but not all staples and clips were removed.

Additional Forms Available

Portions of this collection are available on AAA legacy 35 mm microfilm reels 1373-1377, 2398-2399, and 3482. Researchers should note that the arrangement of the papers as described in this finding aid does not reflect the order of the collection on microfilm due to reprocessing.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Use of archival audiovisual recordings with no duplicate access copy requires advance notice.

How to Cite This Collection

Alfred Victor Frankenstein papers, 1875-1985. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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