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Abraham Rattner and Esther Gentle papers, 1891-1986

Abraham Rattner and Esther Gentle papers, 1891-1986

Rattner, Abraham, 1893-1978

Muralist, Painter, Printmaker, Illustrator

Collection Information

Size: 24.8 linear feet

Summary: Abraham Rattner's papers provide insight into an important time for twentieth century American art and culture. By studying Rattner's papers, the researcher may view the beginnings of Modernism, the cultural change that pushed the boundaries of artistic and literary traditions and provided new ways in which to express ourselves.

The Abraham Rattner and Esther Gentle papers measure 24.8 linear feet and date from 1891 through the 1980s. The collection documents Rattner's life and career as an artist through interviews, extensive correspondence, gallery files, studio notebooks, writings, notes, date books and diaries, photographs, and works of art.

The biographical files contain documents such as Rattner's birth certificate, travel visas, his senior yearbook from 1912 which shows some of his early art work, and some of his awards. His birth certificate is of particular interest since it shows Rattner's birth date to be 1893 instead of the recognized 1895.

The correspondence offers great insight into the thoughts of many American and European artists and writers during the 1930s and 1940s. Rattner, a prolific writer, expressed many of his own thoughts and concerns through his letters, many of which are included in this collection. The vast amount of correspondence include letters from notable figures such as George Biddle, Kay Boyle, Paul Burlin, Norman Carton, Robert Coates, Stuart Davis, Adolph Dehn, Richard de Rochemont, John Dos Passos, Xavier Gonzales, John Howard Griffin, Ramon Guthrie, Robert Gwathmey, Weeks Hall, Stanley W. Hayter, Jean Helion, Hilaire Hiler, Joseph Hirsch, Stefan Hirsch, Carl Holty, Louis Kronberg, Rico Lebrun, Jacques Lipchitz, Earle Ludgin, Thalia Wescott Malcolm, Henry Miller, Joan Miro, Bror Julius Olsson Nordfeldt, Channing Peake, Henry Varnum Poor, Felix Ruvolo, Jack Gage Stark, Frank C. Watkins, and Allen Weller, among others.

Rattner was engaged in a wide range of special art projects, and he kept detailed files on these projects. The projects spanned from 1940 through 1973 and included endeavors such as illustrations for Life magazine, stained-glass designs, mosaic and tapestry projects, as well as special paintings such as Victory--Jerusalem the Golden and The Gallows of Baghdad. Rattner's papers also detail the history of a fresco painted by Paul Gauguin entitled Joan d'Arcwhich Rattner purchased in France in 1925.

Rattner's forty year friendship with the writer Henry Miller is chronicled throughout the collection in the forms of correspondence, writings, printed material, phototographs and artwork. Their correspondence ranges from 1938 through 1978 and offers great insight into their relationship. Rattner and Miller's road trip from New York to New Orleans in 1940-1941 is documented in the series entitled Special Projects. Also included in the collection are printed material, such as biographical material on Miller, Miller's writings, literary announcements and reviews; Miller's writings on Rattner; and photographs of Miller.

The gallery files contain correspondence, receipts, and notes regarding the galleries which represented Rattner. Those galleries included the Rosenberg Gallery, the Downtown Gallery, and the Kennedy Gallery. A small series of exhibition files contain material about exhibitions held outside of Rattner's representative galleries.

Rattner's writings proved to be an outlet for his thoughts on painting, his inspirations, frustrations, and sadness. In addition to painting, Rattner was able to express his creativity through writing poetry. Writing also helped him work through his depression over the death of his first wife Bettina Bedwell.

He also kept finely detailed studio notebooks. The original order has been maintained, and they trace the history of almost each painting, drawing, and study attempted by Rattner. The notebooks often provide information regarding whether the work was sent to a gallery or given as a gift. Sometimes they contain correspondence or writings that reveal the inspiration for a work. They have been arranged in chronological order, according to Rattner's own filing system.

Rattner retained receipts for most of his art expenses. Arranged by decade, these receipts show the type of paint, colors, types of paper and brushes that he used.

Rattner also kept many household files and personal financial records. Household files contain insurance records, warranties and rental agreements, while the financial records contain returned checks and bank statements. Some bank statements from Esther Gentle Reproductions are also included. The household files and financial records are not filmed.

The date books and diaries reveal the aspects of daily life and the personal thoughts of Rattner and Esther Gentle. In many cases, Rattner shared his date books and diaries with Gentle. The early diaries are fascinating, especially the 1939 diary that discloses the Rattners' last days in France before escaping Nazism and returning to the United States.

Rettner's scrapbooks span from 1938 to 1952 and contain newspaper and magazine clippings that mention the artist or his work.

The printed material covers a period from 1930s through the 1980s and includes exhibition catalogs, exhibition announcements, clippings, and miscellaneous material such as an autograph book from 1969 and a map of Israel that shows Rattner's travel route. There is a large amount of unfilmed printed material that is listed in the series description.

Writings by others consists of writings on Rattner and other topics.

The collection contains many photographs taken of Rattner and taken by him, as well as photos of family, friends, his studio, travels, and photographs of Rattner's art. Photographs of notable people include Henry Miller, Joan Miro, John Dos Passos, Archibald MacLeish, and Malcolm Cowley, among others.

The amount of Rattner's art work included in the collection is small, but it is significant because it provides examples of his very early work, dating from 1912-1914. Some later studies are also present, as well as a number of random sketches. Color was very important to Rattner, and some of his color studies from the 1940s are also included. Art work by other artists is comprised of some small paintings by Max Weber, a water color by Henry Miller, a painting by Ken Buryd, as well as some work by unknown artists.

In addition to tracing Rattner's life and career, the collection also documents the lives of Rattner's two wives, Bettina Bedwell and Esther Gentle. Both women had profound effects on Rattner's work. Among Bettina Bedwell's papers are her diary, fashion sketches, and correspondence. Esther Gentle's papers include correspondence, writings, as well as papers documenting her business Esther Gentle Reproductions. There are a small amount of papers relating to Allen Leepa, Rattner's stepson with Esther Gentle.

Biographical/Historical Note

Abraham Rattner (1893-1978) was a painter, mosaicist, and stained glass artist from Paris, France and New York, N.Y. Studied art and architecture at George Washington University, the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. In 1917, he enlisted in the U.S. Army camouflage section. Married first wife, Bettina Bedwell, in 1924. Was a member of the Minotaure group, along with Picasso, Miro, Giacometti, Le Corbusier, Braque, Dali, and Reverdy. Rattner and his wife fled Europe in 1939 following the Nazi invasion of France. He married second wife Esther Gentle (1900-1992) in 1949. Rattner died of heart failure on February 14, 1978.

Provenance

The collection was given to the Archives of American Art in stages by Abraham Rattner 1972-1983, by Esther Gentle 1986-1987, and by Gene Allen in 1992. The donated material that was previously filmed has been integrated and refilmed includes reels D203 and D205C-D205D. The material found on reels D205A-D205B was loaned by Rattner and the material found on reel 1212 was loaned by his sister, Jennie Allen.

Related Materials

Funding

Processing and microfilming were made possible by a grant from the Judith Rothschild Foundation.

Location of Originals

  • REELS D205A-D205B- 21 notebooks, 1944-1962: Originals returned to the lender, Abraham Rattner, after microfilming.

A Finding Aid to the Abraham Rattner and Esther Gentle Papers,
1891-1986
, in the Archives of American Art
AAA.rattabra
Biographical Note
Abraham Rattner was born in Poughkeepsie, New York in 1895. His parents immigrated to the United States to escape antisemitism in Czarist Russia. He was the second of six children, including his eldest brother Louis, younger brothers Manuel (Manny) and Harry, and his younger sisters Rose and Jennie.
Rattner's parents encouraged him to paint at a young age, and as he grew up, painting became a part of his daily life. He graduated from Poughkeepsie High School in 1912 and left to study architecture at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. At night, he took art courses at the Corcoran School of Art. He soon became a full-time art student, and applied for a scholarship to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. He was accepted in 1919 and supported himself by doing illustrations for Philadelphia newspapers.
In 1917, World War I interrupted his studies. Rattner entered the United States Army in France where he became Sergeant of camouflage section, 40th Engineers. Camouflage, reflecting aspects of modern art in its form and pattern, made use of Rattner's artistic skills. During the second battle of the Marne, Rattner injured his back and returned to the States with an ailment that would affect him for the rest of his life.
Rattner returned to the Pennsylvania Academy and was awarded the Cresson scholarship to study art in Europe. He traveled for one year, then settled in Paris for the next twenty years. Those twenty years in Paris became the most formative for Rattner because he was able to study and experiment with Futurism, Cubism, and Expressionism. Post World War I Paris was the center of modern culture for Americans disillusioned by the destruction of the war. Expatriate writers, poets, and artists were searching for a culture that shunned the traditions of the past and exchanged ideas with one another at the lively Paris cafes and salons.
In 1924, Abraham Rattner married Bettina Bedwell, an American art student and fashion illustrator. Bettina became the Paris fashion correspondent for the
New York News-Chicago Tribune Syndicate
. In 1927, Rattner was a member of the Minotaure group, along with Picasso, Miro, Giacometti, Le Corbusier, Braque, Dali, and Reverdy. He also illustrated an article for Jon Dos Passos in
Verve
magazine in 1931.
Rattner's first one-man show was in 1935 at the Galerie Bonjean in Paris, which was followed by one-man shows at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York, the Arts Club of Chicago, and the Courvoisier Gallery in San Francisco.
The threat of Hitler and Nazism forced Rattner and his wife to flee Paris in 1939. Arriving in New York in early 1940, Rattner agreed to take a trip by car with the writer Henry Miller. Their route took them from New York to New Iberia, Louisiana via the East coast and Southern states. Their mission was to rediscover America, with Henry Miller writing about their experiences and Rattner sketching the scenery. Rattner's friendship with Henry Miller was an important one that lasted throughout his life.
During the 1940s, Rattner's art was widely exhibited. In 1941, he joined the Rosenberg Gallery in New York, and remained with the gallery for fourteen years. He won awards for his work such as the Temple Gold Medal in 1945 and second prize in the Pepsi-Cola Fourth Annual Art Competition in 1946. In 1947, Bettina Bedwell suddenly died due to a kidney infection, sending Rattner into a spiral of grief and depression. To escape depression, from 1947-1949, he taught at the New School for Social Research in New York.
In 1949, Rattner married Esther Gentle, an artist and business woman who ran an art reproductions business. In 1951, the Rattners moved to Rome where he worked as Artist in Residence at the American Academy. The next year, they moved to Illinois where he was the Artist in Residence at the University of Illinois. Ratter was awarded first prize in 1953 at the 23rd Corcoran Biennial Exhibition and also served as Vice-President of Artists' Equity. In 1956, Rattner was the Distinguished Visiting Professor at Michigan State University, and along with his stepson, Allen Leepa, established an art school on Long Island. In 1957, Rattner left the Rosenberg Gallery to join the Downtown Gallery. He felt he would professionally profit from representation by the well-known Edith Halpert; however, the next twelve years reflected a tumultuous relationship between the artist and the gallery owner.
In 1957, Rattner reached out to other forms of art and design. He experimented with mosaic, tapestry and stained-glass. He designed mosaic columns and tapestries for the Fairmont Temple Anche Chesed in Cleveland and a mosaic for a friary and college in Centerville, Ohio. His stained-glass designs were highly celebrated and respected. His most famous stained-glass piece was the window for the Chicago Loop Synagogue. For this piece, Rattner spent two years traveling to Paris to design and supervise every process involved in the design and installation of the window.
Rattner felt that while his paintings during the 1940s and 1950s were romantic and self-reflective, the 1960s marked a new inspirational period in his work. His painting reflected religious comment, bringing Rattner back in touch with his Jewish heritage, as well as reflecting a sense of social protest. In 1968, Rattner exhibited his painting
Victory--Jerusalem the Golden
to honor the celebration of Israel's twentieth anniversary of independence. It was also in 1968 that Rattner left the Downtown Gallery for the Kennedy Gallery. In 1969, he painted
The Gallows of Baghdad
series as a protest to the hanging of nine Jews by Iraqi authorities.
The 1970s marked a time of many exhibitions. In 1976, the National Collection of Fine Arts in Washington, D.C. sponsored an exhibition of his designs for stained-glass entitled "...and let there be light". Also, from 1976 through 1977, "Our America" exhibited Rattner's drawings from his 1940 U.S.A. trip with Henry Miller in England and in the United States. In 1977, Michigan State University bestowed upon him the Honorary Degree for Humanity. On February 14, 1978, Abraham Rattner died due to heart failure.
1893
Born June 8th in Poughkeepsie, New York.
1912
Graduated from Poughkeepsie High School.
1914-1917
Student at George Washington University, Corcoran School of Art and Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
1917
Enlisted in the United States Army in France as Sergeant, camouflage section, 40th Engineers. Fought at Seicheprey, second battle of the Marne, and Chateau-Thierry.
1919
Returned to Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Awarded Cresson traveling fellowship to Europe.
1920
Traveled in France, Spain, England, Belgium and Holland.
1921
Art student in Paris at Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Grand Chaumiere, and Academie Ranson.
1922
Lived and painted in Giverny, France.
1923
Returned to Paris.
1924
Married Bettina Bedwell, Paris fashion correspondent for the
New York News-Chicago Tribune
news syndicate. Exhibited at Salon d'Automne and Salon des Independants.
1927
Member of the Minotaure group in Paris.
1931
Illustrated article, "Fire," by John Dos Passos for
Verve
magazine.
1935
First one-person show at Galerie Bonjean, Paris. French government purchased
Card Party
for Museum of Impressionism, The Louvre.
1936
One-person show at Julien Levy Gallery, New York (also 1939, 1941); Arts Club of Chicago; Courvoisier Gallery, San Francisco (also 1941).
1940
Returned to the United States following Nazi invasion of France. Traveled with Henry Miller from New York to New Iberia, Louisiana.
1941
One-person shows: Stendahl Gallery, Los Angeles; Faulkner Memorial Art Gallery, Santa Barbara (also 1943); Paul Rosenberg Gallery, New York (also 1942, 1944, 1946, 1948-1950, 1952, 1956); Studio, New York.
1945
Awarded the Temple Gold Medal from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Wrote "An American in Paris" for
Magazine of Art.
1946
Awarded second prize at the Pepsi-Cola Fourth Annual Art Competition.
1947
Death of Bettina Bedwell Rattner.
1948
Taught at the New School for Social Research, New York.
1949
Married Esther Gentle. Visiting artist at Yale University and at the Brooklyn Museum School. Awarded honorable mention at the Carnegie Institute Exhibition of American Painting.
1950
Awarded the Purchase Prize at the University of Illinois Biennial Exhibition.
1951
Artist in residence at the American Academy in Rome.
1952
Artist in residence at the University of Illinois.
1953
Awarded first prize at the 23rd Corcoran Biennial Exhibition. Served as Vice-President of Artists' Equity.
1954
Taught at the Art Students League. Panelist at the Design Conference in Aspen, Colorado.
1955
Exhibited drawings at the Chicago Art Institute.
1956
Distinguished Visiting Professor at Michigan State University. Established an art school in East Hampton and Sag Harbor, Long Island.
1957
Designed mosaic columns and tapestries for the Fairmont Temple Anche Chesed in Cleveland. One-person show at Downtown Gallery, New York (also 1958-1967).
1958
Designed mosaic wall for St. Leonard's Friary and College in Centerville, Ohio. Designed stained-glass windows for the Flint Institute of Arts, Michigan. Began designs for stained-glass window for the Chicago Loop Synagogue. Exhibited with Alexander Calder at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Elected member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. Awarded the Butler Memorial Prize at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
1959
Retrospective exhibition circulated by the American Federation of Arts. Exhibited at the Whitney Museum of Art.
1964
Exhibited at the Edinburgh International Festival in Scotland.
1968
Exhibited painting entitled
Victory--Jerusalem the Golden
at the celebration of Israel's 20th anniversary of independence.
1969
One-person shows: Kennedy Galleries, New York; Galerie Weil, Paris (
Baghdad Hangings
), Galerie Belgique, Brussels (
Baghdad Hangings
).
1970
Film commissioned by ABC-TV entitled "The Long Prayer of Abraham Rattner."
1972
Beggar's Opera
lithographs exhibited at Circle Gallery, Chicago.
1976
Displayed stained-glass on religious themes with the National Collection of Fine Arts in Washington, D.C.
1977
"Our America" exhibition in England and the United States. Awarded Honorary Degree for Humanity from Michigan State University.
1978
Died on February 14th.
Arrangement
The collection is arranged into twenty-four series based primarily on type of document or special project. Though concentrated in its own series, additional correspondence is scattered throughout the collection and may be found in special project files, gallery files, exhibition files, studio notebooks, and scrapbooks. The correspondence has been divided into two subseries, one chronological and the other according to Rattner's subject-oriented filing system. Special art projects have been organized by project, and placed in chronological order. The studio notebooks have also been divided into subseries, and all notebook pages maintain Rattner's original order. The first subseries of notebooks reflects Rattner's numbering system, while the second subseries is arranged chronologically. The vast amount of printed material has been divided into subseries, and all of the unfilmed printed material has been organized chronologically at the end of the series.
Within each series, material is arranged either in chronological order, or in some cases, according to Abraham Rattner's own organizational system.
Oversized materials from various series are housed in oversized folders 33-45 and are noted in the Series Description/Container Listing with see also/see references or in the container columns.
Series 1: Biographical Files, 1893-1978, undated (box 1; 0.2 linear ft.)
Series 2: Interviews, 1957-1975, undated (box 1; 7 folders)
Series 3: Correspondence Files, 1933-1978, undated (boxes 1-5; 4.3 linear ft.)
Series 4: Special Projects, 1940-1987, undated (boxes 5-6, ovs 33-35; 1.5 linear ft.)
Series 5:
Joan d'Arc
Fresco painted by Paul Gaugin, 1925-1963, undated (box 7, ov 36; 11 folders)
Series 6: Gallery Files, 1942-1975 (boxes 7-8; 1.5 linear ft.)
Series 7: Exhibition Files, 1963-1978 (boxes 7, 9; 9 folders)
Series 8: Writings, 1940-1972, undated (box 9; 0.9 linear ft.)
Series 9: Studio Notebooks, 1935-1975, undated (boxes 10-11; 1.9 linear ft.)
Series 10: Art Expenses, circa 1940-1970 (boxes 11-13; 0.7 linear ft.)
Series 11: Household Files, 1940-1970, undated (box 13; 0.8 linear ft.)
Series 12: Financial Records, 1933-1963 (boxes 13-14; 0.7 linear ft.)
Series 13: Notes and Lists, 1936-1972, undated (box 14; 0.5 linear ft.)
Series 14: Address Books, 1939-1977, undated (box 15; 1.0 linear ft.)
Series 15: Date Books/Diaries, 1937-1977, undated (boxes 16-17; 1.6 linear ft.)
Series 16: Scrapbooks, 1938-1952 (boxes 18-22; 1.5 linear ft.)
Series 17: Printed Material, 1920s-1980s, undated (boxes 23-26; 3.6 linear ft.)
Series 18: Writings by Others, 1945-circa 1980, undated (box 26; 20 folders)
Series 19: Photographs, 1891-1970s, undated (boxes 27-29; 1.6 linear ft.)
Series 20: Works of Art by Rattner, 1912-1914, 1940-1967, undated (box 30, ovs 37-44; 2.4 linear ft.)
Series 21: Works of Art by Others, undated (box 30, ov 45; 6 folders)
Series 22: Bettina Bedwell Papers, 1932-1947, undated (box 31; 0.4 linear ft.)
Series 23: Esther Gentle Papers, 1921-1984, undated (boxes 31-32; 1.3 linear ft.)
Series 24: Allen Leepa Papers, 1952-1969, undated (box 32; 8 folders)
Provenance
The collection was given to the Archives of American Art in stages by Abraham Rattner 1972-1983, by Esther Gentle 1986-1987, and by Gene Allen in 1992. The donated material that was previously filmed has been integrated and refilmed includes reels D203 and D205C-D205D. The material found on reels D205A-D205B was loaned by Rattner and the material found on reel 1212 was loaned by his sister, Jennie Allen.
Location of Originals
  • REELS D205A-D205B- 21 notebooks, 1944-1962: Originals returned to the lender, Abraham Rattner, after microfilming.
Processing Information
The collection was processed by Wendy B. Bruton. Processing and microfilming were made possible by a grant from the Judith Rothschild Foundation

Additional Forms Available

The bulk of the collection is available on microfilm reels 5258-5279. The microfilm is available for interlibrary loan.

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.

How to Cite This Collection

Abraham Rattner and Esther Gentle papers, 1891-1986. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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