Skip to main content

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

Contents and Arrangement

The collection is arranged into 7 series:

Make a Request

  • To request an appointment to view materials, make your selections using the checkboxes and click the "Reading Room" button. Please note, you will receive the full box.
  • To request reproductions, make your selections using the checkboxes and click the "Reproduction" button.

Series 1: Biographical Materials and Artifacts, 1799, 1822, 1891-1961
0.9 linear feet
Boxes 1, 11-12, 17

This series consists of documents related to John Graham's military service, legal matters, medical history, family members, as well as three-dimensional artifacts belonging to Graham.
Many of the documents in this series are in Polish or Russian, and typescript translations are often available. Translations appear to have been annotated and perhaps written by Graham. These documents include a baptism certificate, a certificate of nobility, documents related to Graham's military service and nationality, and certificates of identity. Graham's marriages and divorces are documented through legal records, invitations, correspondence in Russian with a third party related to his divorce from Vera Alexandrovna, and an identity paper of Constance Wellman with a photograph issued in France.
Two scrapbooks related to Archer Gibson, Graham's father-in-law by his third marriage to Elinor Gibson and a well-known organist, are found. The first contains primarily newspaper clippings related to Gibson's musical career. The second contains letters and telegrams from well-known politicians, industrialists, and other celebrities for whom Gibson gave concerts. For photographs of Archer Gibson, see the Photographs series.
Medical documents include a report of Graham's death issued by the State Department and x-rays taken in 1961, shortly before his death.
Among the artifacts are four vellum-bound books, two of which bear dates from the late 18th and early 19th century. Some of the Artwork among Graham's papers appears to have been made on paper taken from these books. Also found is a fragment of music on vellum, which is likely the Nicene Creed. Relating to David Graham is a naval patch representing the rank of a Recruit Chief Petty Officer.
Additional biographical documents, including Graham's will and lists of assets, are found in Personal Business Records.

Series 2: Correspondence, circa 1932-1988
0.6 linear feet
Box 1

This series contains personal and business correspondence, and consists primarily of letters received by Graham from family members, artists, patrons, art and antique dealers, health practitioners, and other associates. Third-party correspondence and letters written by Graham are found among his family's letters and the letters of Jack Mayer. In general, arrangement is alphabetical by correspondent. Incidental letters and letters from unidentified correspondents are filed at the end of the series in miscellaneous files for business, medical, and personal correspondence.
Significant correspondents include David Burliuk, Stuart Davis, Ultra Violet, Francoise Gilot, R.B. Kitaj, and Marc Tobey. Among Elinor Gibson Graham's letters is third-party correspondence with attorney Paul Arnold regarding Graham's estate, a letter signed Dorothy which may have been written by Dorothy Dehner, and letters from Eila Kokkinen, Constance Wellman, and Charles Shaw. Jack Mayer's correspondence also contains lists of paintings and third-party correspondence with interested patrons. A photograph of Jan Tice is found with a letter from Ron Gorchov, and an illustrated letter is among Tice's letters to Graham.
Miscellaneous business correspondence includes letters regarding Graham's antique business, financial affairs, real estate, publishing, responses to letters Graham wrote to politicians, and scattered receipts for personal items. Also found is a letter from a New York Public Library linguist and a letter form a Harvard architect with advice to Graham about employment. Miscellaneous medical correspondence includes letters from a variety of doctors and healers, including Julie Owen, the British practitioner of a bee sting cure. Miscellaneous personal correspondence is separated by the language in which letters are written; undated letters which may be from Graham's early years are found among the letters in Polish and Russian. Names found in miscellaneous personal correspondence are listed in the folder list.
Additional scattered correspondence is found in Biographical Materials and Personal Business Records.

Series 3: Personal Business Records, circa 1931-1962
1.4 linear feet
Box 1-3

This series contains address books, appointment books, contracts, receipts, banking documents, property inventories, stock records, tax records, notes, notebooks, wills and other legal documents, and scattered correspondence related to Graham's finances. Apart from the appointment books and inventories which are earlier, records in this series are dated from the late 1950s to Graham's death.
Appointment books contain intermittent records of business and personal appointments from 1931 to 1938, and from 1948 to 1961. As with most of Graham's papers, they are heavily annotated and often contain sketches; a 1937 appointment book in particular contains numerous color drawings. Annotations range from notes about Graham's antique trade to personal matters and writings on Graham's wide-ranging interests. Some of these notes appear to have been made years after the year for which the book was made. One of the folders containing the address files is also annotated and illustrated. Notebooks found in the Writings series contain similar notes, writings, and sketches.
Bank account records include check ledgers, deposit slips, and account statements. Financial notebooks consist of check ledgers that were re-used as notebooks, usually to keep track of antique objects and collectors. Additional notes related to antiques are found in financial notes, along with notes on personal assets and Graham's dealings with the Stable Gallery. Scattered drafts of letters are found among financial notes. Additional financial correspondence is also found filed with wills, stock records, and tax records.
The book inventory and catalog of antiques and books are both annotated typescripts with notes in Graham's handwriting.
Other details about the contents of folders are noted in the folder list.
Additional correspondence related to Graham's business transactions can be found in Correspondence. In particular, letters related to Graham's estate can be found with Elinor Graham's correspondence.

Series 4: Writings, 1839, circa 1923-1986
2.9 linear feet
Box 3-5, OV 13

This series contains writings by Graham and others in the form of book-length manuscripts, annotated books, card files, essays, lists, notes, notebooks, poetry, and handwritten prayers. Books and notebooks comprise the bulk of materials.
Books are generally found in multiple drafts in the form of manuscripts and annotated typescripts. Two works are published books containing Graham's annotations: a 1923 book of poems,
Have It
, and Graham's most well-known work,
Systems and Dialectics of Art
, published in 1937. Another published work found here in manuscript form is a catalog of African art Graham created with Frank Crowninshield.
The remaining manuscripts include a comparative history of art, some of which appears to have been incorporated into
Systems and Dialectics of Art
; a stylized, often abstract autobiographical work usually entitled
Muerte Kalaka y Casa Nada (Child-hood) (Child Within)
, which has sometimes been referred to as
in the literature on Graham; and a large collection of brief, alphabetically-arranged essays, which appear to have been worked on over the course of decades under various titles including
Don Giovanni
Finale I-V
, and
Orifizio Mundi
. Dates, format, and the text of these works overlap significantly, and appear to have been incorporated into one another in different versions at various stages of the writing. Manuscripts in this series have been filed according to titles found on the works or on binders containing the works, and dated according to scattered postmarks and dated items found among the papers. Card files contain handwritten versions of the same essays that appear in
Orifizio Mundi
and were likely preliminary to the typed manuscripts. Additional notes describing the various versions of book manuscripts are found in the folder list.
Essays by Graham include typescripts, usually annotated, of published essays by Graham. Essays about Graham include photocopied typescripts of two essays written after his death. For additional published essays and articles about Graham, see Printed Materials.
Lists are found on a wide range of subjects, often banal or personal and sometimes cryptic. For lists of artwork or other assets, see Correspondence and Personal Business Records.
Miscellaneous notes and writings consist of notes, musings, essays, and aphorisms written or copied by Graham on a variety of subjects. Graham often applied brief titles to these apparently spontaneous writings, and where possible such items have been grouped together under his headings or other obvious subject matter. The folder entitled "Psychoanalysis" contains a lengthy, handwritten self-analysis dated from May through July of 1939. Miscellaneous notes and writings without titles or obvious subject matter are filed chronologically.
Notebooks contain sketches, symbols, essays, and notes and are written in multiple languages and scripts, including Russian, Latin, Greek, French, and English. Some notebooks are written in appointment books, but do not seem to record any information specific to dates. Any appointment books Graham used to actually record appointments are filed with Personal Business Records, although they may also contain notes, essays, and sketches.
Poetry includes poems by Graham, many of which are written in Russian, and poems about Graham, including one by the French poet Fernand Marc.
Additional writings are found throughout the collection, notably in Personal Business Records, Printed Materials, and Artwork.

Series 5: Printed Materials, circa 1885-1961
3.7 linear feet
Boxes 6-9, OV 14

This series contains published books, clippings, exhibition catalogs, pamphlets, brochures, publicity, reproductions of works of art, and sheet music collected by Graham and his family members.
Books are filed by subject, and some are extensively annotated, especially those in the categories of Children's Books (inscribed by Graham to his son); Literature; Occult, Theosophy, and Religion; and Yoga. Books on Literature also have drawings on their endpages. These include works by Andrei Biely, Nikolai Gogol, Alexander Pushkin, Alexander Griboyedov, and an anthology of 20th century Russian poetry published in 1920. A 1922 book of criticism on Vladimir Mayakovsky features cover art by El Lissitzky. A single, unmarked copy of Graham's major published work of art theory, Systems and Dialectics of Art, is filed at the end of this series. See Writings for the author's annotated copy of this book and his book of poetry,
Have It
Clippings are primarily about Graham, his family members, Elinor and David Graham, and friends. Also found is a 1938 article written by Graham entitled "Mexico." Clippings are in chronological order. Many clippings on subjects other than Graham are found in the reference files.
Exhibition catalogs are for one-man shows or group shows featuring Graham's artwork, with scattered catalogs from other artists' exhibitions. Early catalogs contain essays on Graham by Duncan Phillips, Andre Salmon, David Burliuk, and Waldemar George. Catalogs of the Stable Gallery (1953-1954) are heavily annotated by Graham.
Reference files include clippings, brochures, mimeos, publicity, pamphlets, postcards, maps, and other ephemera. Several of the files are primarily image files, and others contain articles or brochures. Some, such as the file on Picasso, contain both images and articles. Files occasionally contain Photostat copies of printed materials from a variety of sources. Materials in reference files are occasionally annotated.
Sheet music includes mostly published piano arrangements, many of which are in Russian. A few handwritten scores are also found.
Additional printed materials are found in Biographical Materials.
The bulk of the material in this series has been scanned. Books have not been scanned in their entirety, but book covers, title pages, and annotated pages have been scanned.

Series 6: Photographs, circa 1860-1985
0.9 linear feet
Box 9-10, 17, OV 15

This series contains photographs of John Graham, his family and associates, artwork by Graham, European art and architecture, and antiques and primitive art.
Photographs of John Graham date back to his childhood in Russia. Early photographs include several cabinet card portraits, one of which is unidentified but appears to be Graham at age two around 1888. Snapshots and formal portraits of Graham are found spanning his entire life. Some snapshots also depict his son, David Graham, in the early 1930s. The earliest group photograph present appears to depict Graham and his first wife Ebrenia. Other individuals in group photographs in which Graham appears are unidentified.
Family photographs depict Graham's parents, wives, and children. Numerous photographs of the family of Elinor Gibson Graham, John Graham's fourth wife, are also found, including her father, Archer Gibson, a well-known organist, and the instruments he helped to design. Additional photographs of Graham's family members may be among the unidentified photographs filed under "Miscellaneous People."
Other photographs in this series depict Picasso with Marie Vassilieff and Pâcquerette, Arshile Gorky with Graham; Françoise Gilot with Picasso and her children, Claude and Paloma; and Linda Leyden, a young girlfriend of Graham's in his later years. Also found are portraits of young women and men. It is likely that these depict actors or other famous figures.
A group of photographic enlargements grouped together in this series appear to have been used by Graham in his creative process. Many of the originals from which the enlargements were derived are found among Graham's papers.
Among the photographs of works of art are installation views, the earliest of which appear to be wall decorations or murals, and may be those Graham painted at Wells College around 1930. Other exhibitions shown include a Carnegie Institute show, a 1946 window display at Arnold Constable department store in New York City, and a 1985 exhibit at the Andre Emmerich Gallery, also in New York.
Except for installation views, most of the photographs of works of art have not been scanned. Additional photographs are found in Biographical Materials and Correspondence.

Series 7: Artwork, circa 1852-1961
1 linear foot
Box 10, OV 16

This series includes sketchbooks, loose sketches and drawings, illustrated and annotated folders and envelopes, and artwork by artists other than John Graham in the form of drawings, prints, printed cloth, and a silhouette of Graham's daughter, Maria Dombrowski.
Sketchbooks include an early sketchbook with line drawings, mostly of horses, dated and inscribed by John Graham to his son David in 1934. One drawing in this volume appears to have been made by David Graham. Later sketchbooks are all dated in the last few years of Graham's life and depict mostly women, horses, mythical, and classical subjects.
Sketches and Drawings range from very rough sketches and doodles to finished drawings. There is a large text piece done with stencils, and many figures, equestrian subjects, mythical subjects, abstract drawings, and few landscapes and still lifes. Illustrated folders and envelopes, some of which are dated, contain a wide array of symbols, decorations, drawings, notes, and lists on a range of subjects. Additional annotated folders are found in the Writings series. Illustrated folders closely resemble a number of Graham's notebooks, also found in Writings.
Drawings which appear to have been made by others include several precise architectural drawings in pencil, one of which is dated '62, presumably 1862. There are also several equestrian drawings and a contemporary series of fantastical drawings of griffins and women, which do not appear to be in Graham's style. Prints include a series of illustrations of 19th century Russian Army uniforms and 19th century interiors which are hand painted, as well as fine prints of classical architecture and a couple of 20th century woodblock prints.
Additional artwork is found scattered throughout the collection, especially in Personal Business Records, Writings, and Printed Materials.

Make a Request

  • To request an appointment to view materials, make your selections using the checkboxes and click the "Reading Room" button. Please note, you will receive the full box.
  • To request reproductions, make your selections using the checkboxes and click the "Reproduction" button.