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Forbes Watson papers, 1840-1967, bulk 1900-1960

Forbes Watson papers, 1840-1967, bulk 1900-1960

Watson, Forbes, 1879-1960

Art critic, Arts administrator

Collection Information

Size: 13.5 linear ft.

Summary: The papers of New York City art critic, writer, and lecturer Forbes Watson date from 1840-1967, with the bulk of materials dating from 1900-1960, and measure 13.5 linear feet. Found are biographical materials, correspondence, business records relating to the Arts Publishing Corporation, records documenting Watson's work for the Public Works of Art Project and the Section of Painting and Sculpture, reference files, an exhibition file from the Pepsi-Cola Company's Third Annual Exhibition, writings and notes, ten scrapbooks and loose pages, printed materials, and photographs.

Biographical material includes Watson's Harvard diploma, documents concerning his service with the Red Cross in World War II, biographical accounts, and obituaries.

Correspondence is primarily with colleagues and includes scattered letters from Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Ira Glackens, Allen Tucker, and Max Weber. Other letters are from artists, art historians, and museum curators. A notebook contains shorthand drafts of letters from Watson.

Business records include personal business records consisting of various tax and stock records. The Arts Publishing Corporation records concern Watson's tenure as editor of The Arts magazine and contains a contract, correspondence, financial records, stockholders reports, press releases, a scrapbook, and issues of The Arts.

The U.S. Treasury Department file is the largest series and documents Watson's federal employment as technical director, chief advisor, and consultant for Treasury Department's public art programs - the Public Works of Art Project and the Section of Painting and Sculpture. The files contain correspondence, financial reports, prospectuses, exhibition files, typescripts, clippings, exhibition catalogs, miscellaneous printed material, and photographs, and a scrapbook. The files contain a record of Watson's and other federal administrators' interactions with many artists during the Depression Era. Correspondence is primarily between Watson and Edward Bruce, Olin Dows, Henry and Elinor Morgenthau, and Edward B. Rowan. Found are scattered letters from artists including Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Paul Manship, and William Zorach, among many others. There are exhibition files for "Art for Bonds," "Army at War," and "War Against Japan." There are also photographs of U. S. Treasury Department events including a radio broadcast by John Dewey, Robert La Follette, Jr., and Sumner Welles.

Documents from the Pepsi-Cola Company's Third Annual Exhibition at the National Academy of Design contains a prospectus, an exhibition catalog and artists' statements.

Artist/Patron files contain reference material concerning painters, sculptors, photographers, dancers, composers, authors, art collectors, art dealers, and museum administrators. Files may include writings, notes, artworks, exhibition catalogs and other printed materials. Of particular note are photographs, which include portrait photographs of artists and of artists in their studios. Notable photographers include Ansel Adams, Arnold Genthe, Man Ray, photographs of New York City by Charles Sheeler and a photo of Henri Matisse by A. E. Gallatin. Files for Nan Watson, Symeon Shimin, and Glenn O. Coleman contain artworks. A file for Constantin Brancusi contains legal documents concerning U. S. Customs vs. Brancusi.

Art and Architecture files consist of reference material including photographs and notes concerning miscellaneous unattributed art works, American architecture, and furnishings.

Notes and writings consist of miscellaneous notes and typescripts of lectures and published articles, and notebooks.

Nine scrapbooks and loose scrapbook pages contain clippings of articles written by Watson, lists, and exhibition announcements and catalogs. Additional printed material includes clippings, copies of the Hue and Cry newspaper, exhibition announcements and catalogs, press releases, calendars of events, brochures for the Art Students League, book catalogs, published books, and miscellaneous printed material.

Photographs are of Forbes Watson; family members including his wife, painter Nan Watson; and members of the Art Students League including Peggy Bacon, Minna Citron, Stewart Klonis, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, and Reginald Marsh. There are also photographs of juries for the Carnegie Institute International Exhibitions that include colleagues Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Gifford Beal, Guy Pene DuBois, Leon Kroll, Henri Matisse, Homer Saint-Gaudens, and Maurice Sterne.

Biographical/Historical Note

Forbes Watson (1879-1960) was an art critic, lecturer, and administrator from New York, N.Y.


The Forbes Watson papers were donated by Watson's widow, Nan Watson, in 1961.

A Finding Aid to the Forbes Watson Papers,
bulk 1900-1960,
in the Archives of American Art
Biographical Note
Forbes Watson (1879-1960) worked primarily in New York City and Washington, D.C. as an art critic, writer, lecturer, and consultant to the U. S. Treasury Department's Public Works of Art Project and Section of Painting and Sculpture (Section of Fine Arts).
Forbes Watson was born on November 27, 1879 in Boston, the son of stockbroker John Watson and his wife Mary. Watson grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, attending the Phillips Academy in Andover, and graduating from Harvard University in 1902. After a brief period of freelance writing, he was hired by
The New York Evening Post
as an art critic in 1911 and worked there until 1917. In 1910, he married Agnes, professionally known as painter Nan Watson.
During World War I, Watson served with an American volunteer ambulance unit with the French army, later working with the American Red Cross in Paris. After the war, he moved back to New York City and worked as art critic for
The World
, from the early 1920s until 1931 and as editor of
The Arts
magazine from 1923-1933. Watson also lectured at the Art Students League, and at various universities and arts organizations.
In 1933, Watson moved to Washington, D.C. to serve as technical director of the U. S. Treasury Department's short-lived Public Works of Art Project. In October 1934, Watson was employed as Chief Adviser to the Treasury Department's Section of Painting and Sculpture (later renamed the Section of Fine Arts) and later as Consultant to the Secretary's Office of the Treasury. During World War II, he organized various traveling exhibitions including "Art for Bonds" that promoted the sale of war bonds. Watson retired in 1946 and lived in Gaylordsville, Connecticut.
Watson was the author of numerous essays and reviews, and several books including
American Painting Today
Winslow Homer
, a biography of the noted American artist. With Edward Bruce, he produced a pictorial volume
Art in Federal Buildings, Vol. I: Mural Designs
. At his death he was working on his autobiography.
Forbes Watson died on May 31, 1960 in New Milford, Connecticut.
The collection is arranged as 11 series:
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1902-1960 (Box 1; 4 folders)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1913-1960 (Box 1; 33 folders)
Series 3: Business Records, 1920-1942 (Box 1-3, 14; 2.0 linear feet)
Series 4: U. S. Treasury Department File, 1926-1945 (Box 3-6, 14, 17, OV 21; 3.4 linear feet)
Series 5: File for Pepsi-Cola Company's Third Annual Exhibition "Paintings of the Year," 1946 (Box 6; 5 folders)
Series 6: Artist/Patron Files, 1840-1967 (Box 6-9, 15, OV 21; 2.8 linear feet)
Series 7: Art and Architecture File, 1929-1930 (Box 9; 35 folders)
Series 8: Notes and Writings, 1875-1950 (Box 9-10; 1.2 linear feet)
Series 9: Scrapbooks, 1904-1951 (Box 9, 11, 14, BV 18, BV 19, BV 20; 1.8 linear feet)
Series 10: Printed Material, 1900-1961 (Box 10, 12-13, 16-17; 1.5 linear feet)
Series 11: Photographs, 1900-1950 (Box 13; 6 folders)
All material is arranged chronologically, with the exception of the Artist/Patron Files which are arranged alphabetically.
The Forbes Watson papers were donated by Watson's widow, Nan Watson, in 1961.
Processing Information
Portions of the papers were separated and microfilmed in 1961 on reels D47-D57, 440, 1192-1194, 3480, and 4361. The microfilm reels are no longer in circulation because they do not reflect the current arrangement of the papers. All portions were merged and processed in 2010 by Jean Fitzgerald.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Microfilmed materials must be consulted on microfilm. Contact Reference Services for more information.

How to Cite This Collection

Forbes Watson papers, 1840-1967, bulk 1900-1960. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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