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

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


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

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: 11.2 linear feet

Summary: The papers of painter, collector, and writer John Graham measure 11.2 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/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

Language Note

Portions are in French, Russian, and Latin.


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.