Skip to main content

James Britton papers, circa 1905-1984, bulk circa 1905-1935

James Britton papers, circa 1905-1984, bulk circa 1905-1935

Britton, James, 1878-1936

Painter, Editor, Art critic

Representative image for James Britton papers, circa 1905-1984, bulk circa 1905-1935

This site provides access to the papers of James Britton in the Archives of American Art that were digitized in 2010. The papers have been scanned in their entirety, and total 6,872 images.

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

Collection Information

Size: 2.9 linear feet

Summary: The papers of painter and writer James Britton measure 2.9 linear feet and date from circa 1905-1984, with the bulk of the material dating from circa 1905-1935. The bulk of the papers consist of 49 diaries dating from 1918-1935, plus notebooks of diary excerpts, that chronicle Britton's daily activities and include lists, illustrations, and drafts of correspondence. Additional papers include biographical information compiled by the Britton family; scattered business and financial records; correspondence, including copies of Britton's letters to the editors of the Hartford Courant and the Hartford Times; additional writings and notes that include drafts and manuscripts of an autobiography, drafts of articles for his publication Art Opus, and other writings; sketches and a woodcut print; printed materials, including clippings of his published writings for Art Review International, Book Notes, and Opus; and one photograph of Britton and of works of art.

Biographical information consists of a file of photocopied materials prepared by the Britton Family. Scattered business and financial records include papers relating to Britton's auto accident, indexes of letters, illustrated indexes and lists of works of art, miscellaneous invoices and receipts, and file relating to Arlington Gallery.

Nine folders of correspondence include letters written to and by Britton along with posthumus materials to his widow, Caroline Britton. Correspondents include artists and friends Gertrude Fiske, Eugene Higgins, Kyonei Inukai, Andrew Kelly, Dewitt McClellan Lockman, Edwin Valentine Mitchell, Maurice Prendergast, Duncan Phillips, Alfred Steiglitz, Robert Vonnoh, and Robert C. Vose.

The bulk of the Britton papers consist of his extensive diaries - 49 volumes, plus notebooks of excerpts and detailed indexes. The diaries date from 1918-1935 and detail Britton's daily activities and observations about art figures active in New York and Connecticut, classical music, the Great Depression, Prohibition, the Catholic Church, and politics. In addition, Britton talks of his relationships with his wife and children. The diaries served as a place for Britton to make lists of works of art, portrait subjects, potential clients, etc. Britton also created "Notebooks of Diary Excerpts" and a detailed index of many of the diaries.

Additional writings and notes include a handwritten and incomplete typescript of an autobiography, writings for Britton's publication Opus, and miscellaneous writings about art, music and plays. Writings by others include works by Duncan Scott Kent and Blackfield.

Artwork includes a print and sketches by Britton, and children's drawings.

Printed materials include issues of Britton's Art Review International, Opus, and other publications for which he wrote articles or provided illustration, clippings, exhibition catalogs, and programs.

Photographs include one photo of the artist with a painting and photos of works of art.

Biographical/Historical Note

James Britton (1878-1936) was a critic, painter, woodcut artist, publisher/editor of American Art Review and Opus, and frequent contributor to American Art News. Britton was active in New York and Connecticut. Member of an artist' group known as the Eclectics, charter member of the New Society of American Artists, and founding member of the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts. He worked mainly as a portrait painter.


Donated 1985 by Barbara and Ursula Roberts Britton, granddaughters of James Britton.


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

A Finding Aid to the James Britton Papers,
circa 1905-1984,
bulk circa 1905-1935
, in the Archives of American Art
Biographical Note
James Britton (1878-1936) was a portrait painter and writer active in Connecticut and New York. Britton wrote extensively about American art and artists and was the editor of his own publications
Art Review International
. Also, he was a member of the group of New York painters and sculptors known as The Eclectics.
Born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1878, James Britton began his career as an apprentice working under August Jaccaci at
Scribner's Magazine
in 1895. He studied under George de Forest Brush at the Art Students' League and under Walter Griffin and Charles Noel Flagg in Hartford. He exhibited and worked with many of the American artists associated with the Ash Can school and The Eclectics, a group of New York artists that included Theresa Bernstein, Guy Pene du Bois, Walter Griffin, Philip L. Hale, Eugene Higgins, George Luks, Jane Peterson, Maurice Prendergast, and Mahonri Young. Mainly, Britton worked as a portrait painter but produced many landscapes of Sag Harbor, Long Island, and of his homes in Connecticut. He was a founding member of the New Society of American Artists and the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts. He exhibited at numerous New York City galleries including Ainslie Galleries, Arlington Galleries, Babcock Galleries, Dudensing Galleries, Folsom Galleries, and at the studio of sculptor Marie Apel.
A prolific writer on American art and artists, as well as an illustrator, Britton worked as staff artist for the
Hartford Times
and as an art critic for
American Art News
and the
Hartford Courant
. He also founded and edited
Art Review International
. Two of his published books include
Copley, Painter of the Revolution
Artists of America
. Britton was also interested in classical music and wrote on composers Haydn and Beethoven. Britton's extensive diaries found within his papers chronicle his daily life and commentary.
In 1914, Britton married Caroline Korner and settled mostly in Connecticut. They had three children, Jerome, Teresa, and Ruth. In 1928, a car struck Britton and left him disabled. Although he continued to paint, he suffered from ill-health as a result of the accident. He died in 1936.
James Britton's works are represented at the Wadsworth Atheneum, Mark Twain Memorial, Manchester Public Library and at St. Joseph's College.
The collection is arranged as 8 series:
Series 1: Biographical Information, 1970-1984 (Box 1; 1 folder)
Series 2: Business and Financial records, 1919-1933 (Box 1; 7 folders)
Series 3: Correspondence, 1913-1945 (Box 1; 9 folders)
Series 4: Diaries, 1918-1935 (Box 1-2; 1.5 linear feet)
Series 5: Writings and Notes, circa 1910s-1931 (Box 2-3; 0.4 linear feet)
Series 6: Artwork, circa 1920-1929 (Box 3; 5 folders)
Series 7: Printed Material, 1910-1982 (Box 4; 0.4 linear feet)
Series 8: Photographs, circa 1905-1930s (Box 4, OV 1; 3 folders)
Donated 1985 by Barbara and Ursula Roberts Britton, granddaughters of James Britton.
Processing Information
The James Britton papers were arranged and microfilmed shortly upon receipt on reels 3647-3651. In 2010, Jayna Hanson rearranged the papers and wrote a finding aid prior to digitization in 2010 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Additional Forms Available

The bulk of this collection was digitized in 2010 and is available via the Archives of American Art's website. Materials that have not been digitized include photographs of works of art, duplicates, and some printed materials.

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.

Restrictions on Use

Copyright ownership is claimed by Barbara Britton and Ursula Britton. Contact information: Barbara Britton,, (212) 799-0711 or Ursula Britton,; (805) 650-9107

How to Cite This Collection

James Britton papers, circa 1905-1984, bulk circa 1905-1935. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

  • No downloads available