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John D. Graham papers, 1799-1988, bulk 1890-1961

John D. Graham papers, 1799-1988, bulk 1890-1961

Graham, John D. (John Dabrowsky), ca. 1887-1961


The papers of John Graham in the Archives of American Art were digitized in 2008. The bulk of Graham's papers have been scanned and total 13,475 images.

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

Collection Information

Size: 11.4 linear feet

Biographical/Historical Note

John D. Graham (1887-1961) was a painter and collector from New York and Mexico. Born Ivan Gratsianovitch Dombrovski in Kiev, Russia. Various legal documents list his birth as 1886, 1887, or 1888. He moved to New York in 1920, changing his name to John Dabrowsky Graham. He was a central figure among American avant-garde artists, especially from the late 1920s-1940s. His understanding of cubism and surrealism made him a link to the European art scene. He helped Stuart Davis, Lee Krasner, William de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, Jackson Pollock, and David Smith gain recognition and critical acclaim. His interest in horses, Jungian psychology, yoga, and the occult appear as themes in his work. Graham collected African art which he exhibited in New York inspiring an interest in primitivism among artists. Frank Crowninshield commissioned Graham to assemble an African art collection for him. Graham moved to Mexico in 1936. In 1937, he published "Systems and Dialectics of Art," stimulating American artists interest in primitive art.


Material on reels 3616-3620 was donated by Graham's son, John David Graham, May 1985, just several weeks before his death. In 1987, Graham's daughter-in-law, Patricia Graham, (John David's widow) donated material on reels 3894-3896 and the unmicrofilmed books. The unmicrofilmed books were donated via the André Emmerich Gallery for the estate. In 1986, the Museum of Modern Art donated John Graham papers which had been in MoMA's Department of Prints and Drawings. MoMA probably received them from the estate for use in preparing for their 1968 Graham exhibition. These papers had been microfilmed by MoMA prior to being donated. AAA remicrofilmed the papers in 1990 on reels 4042-4045. MoMA's Department of Prints and Drawings retained 16 v. of notebooks and several loose sketches and lent their master negative of the microfilm for duplicating with the stipulation that they be identified as the "Museum of Modern Art, NY: John Graham Notebooks" (reel 5049).

Related Materials


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

Location of Originals

  • Reel 5049: Museum of Modern Art, NY: John Graham Notebooks: Originals in: Museum of Modern Art, Department of Drawings and Prints.

Scope and Contents

The papers of painter, collector, and writer John Graham measure 11.4 linear feet and date from 1799 to 1988, with the bulk of materials dating from 1890 to 1961. Papers document the life of John Graham, born Ivan Dombrowsky, through personal documents related to military service and family history, passports, artifacts, correspondence, appointment books, financial records, inventories, wills, extensive writings and notes, books, clippings, exhibition catalogs, photographs of Graham and his family and friends, and artwork created and collected by Graham.

Biographical Materials and Artifacts include passports and other official documents, as well as records related to Graham's family, military service, and medical history. Various official legal documents list Graham's birth date as 1886, 1887, or 1888. Among the artifacts found are paint pots and a palette. Correspondence is with art and antique dealers and collectors, and includes significant correspondence and related documents of Jack Mayer, Graham's agent from the late 1950s. Several artists and famous friends are represented in Graham's correspondence including David Burliuk, Stuart Davis, Ultra Violet, Fran­coise Gilot, R.B. Kitaj, Marc Tobey, and Ron Gorchov.

Personal Business Records contain appointment books spanning 1931 to 1961 which record appointments but were also used as notebooks and sketchbooks. Other Business Records include inventories of Graham's books and antiques made by Graham, records of antique-related transactions, wills of Graham and his last wife, Marianne Strate, and extensive personal financial records from the last few years of his life.

Graham's writings are found scattered throughout the collection, as is his artwork. The Writings series is dominated by Graham's lengthy book projects, found in multiple drafts. The author's annotated published works are also found, as well as typescripts of several published essays by and about Graham. Lists, notes, and writings on a wide range of subjects are found on loose pages and in notebooks dated from 1931 to 1961. Among the Printed Materials are many annotated books from Graham's library, some of which contain drawings, and clippings and exhibition catalogs related to Graham's career going back to the 1920s. Reference files of printed ephemera and clippings collected by Graham are found on a variety of subjects, some of which contain pictorial subjects used in Graham's paintings.

Photographs depict Graham from childhood through his last years in cabinet card portraits, passport photographs, and snapshots. Photographs are also found of his parents, his five wives and four children, and a number of famous friends including Pablo Picasso, Fran­coise Gilot, their children, and Arshile Gorky. Artwork includes Graham's sketchbooks of 1934, 1960, and 1961, loose sketches, and a collection of file folders with many symbols and illustrations. Also found among the artwork are antique and contemporary prints and drawings collected by Graham.

The bulk of the collection was digitized in 2008 and is available via the Archives of American Art's website. Materials that generally have not been scanned include photographs of works of art (except installation views), card files of handwritten essays for which there are typed versions, bank statements, and stocks and tax files.

microfilm reel 5049: available for use at Archives of American Art offices and through interlibrary loan.

The papers of John Graham in the Archives of American Art were digitized in 2008. The bulk of Graham's papers have been scanned and total 13,475 images.

Reel 5049: Museum of Modern Art, NY: John Graham Notebooks Authorization to publish, quote or reproduce requires written permission of the Museum of Modern Art, 11 W. 53rd St., New York, N.Y. 10018

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center.

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