Skip to main content

Alfred Victor Frankenstein papers, 1875-1985

More Information

Jayna M. Josefson
Scope and Contents
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 (including 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.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
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
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.
Funding for the processing of this collection was provided by the Smithsonian Institution Collections Care and Preservation Fund
Processing Information
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.