Skip to main content

René d'Harnoncourt papers, 1921-1983

René d'Harnoncourt papers, 1921-1983

D'Harnoncourt, Rene, 1901-1968

Curator, Museum director

Collection Information

Size: 2.4 linear feet

Summary: The papers of art curator, lecturer, and museum director, René d'Harnoncourt (1901-1968), document d'Harnoncourt's activities, primarily in the 1930s and 1940s, particularly as they relate to Mexican and Native American art. D'Harnoncourt's career, including his arrival in Mexico in 1925, his curation of the exhibitions, "Mexican Art" (1930-1932), and "Indian Art of the United States" (1941), and his work for the Department of the Interior's Indian Arts and Crafts Board from 1937-1944, are documented in small amounts of biographical material and correspondence, published writings, printed material, scrapbooks, photographs of d'Harnoncourt and colleagues, and photographs of works of art. The collection also contains a drawing of d'Harnoncourt, and photocopies of caricatures of d'Harnoncourt and others.

Biographical/Historical Note

Art curator, lecturer, and museum director, René d'Harnoncourt (1901-1968), was an authority on Native American art and Mexican arts and crafts. Director of the Museum of Modern Art, 1949-1948. Born Vienna, Austria. D'Harnoncourt was co-author for "Indian Art of the United States" and "The Painted Pig" (1930).

Provenance

The collection was donated by d'Harnoncourt's widow, Sarah d'Harnoncourt, in 1975, 1981, and 1984.

Related Materials

Eleven linear feet of the Museum of Modern Art's d'Harnoncourt papers were lent to the Archives of American Art for microfilming in 1983. These included papers generated by d'Harnoncourt during his professional affiliation with the Museum, such as: personal files; three appointment notebooks; professional files including Latin American correspondence; exhibition files; files documenting outside affiliations; and departmental and special event files. The papers were returned to the Museum of Modern Art after microfilming. The microfilm is available on Archives' legacy microfilm reels 2919-2931, but is not described in the Container Listing of this finding aid.

An oral history of RenÔe d'Harnoncourt, interviewed by Isabel Grossner in 1968, can be found at Columbia University, Oral History Research Office, 801 Butler Library, 535 West 114 Street, New York, NY 10027.

Funding

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

Location of Originals

  • Reels 2919-2931: Originals in: Museum of Modern Art.

A Finding Aid to the René d'Harnoncourt Papers, 1921-1983, in the Archives of American Art
AAA.dharrene
Scope and Contents note
The papers of art curator, lecturer, and museum director, René d’Harnoncourt (1901-1968), document d'Harnoncourt's activities, primarily in the 1930s and 1940s, particularly as they relate to Mexican and Native American art. D'Harnoncourt's career, including his arrival in Mexico in 1925, his curation of the exhibitions,
Mexican Art
(1930-1932), and
Indian Art of the United States
(1941), and his work for the Department of the Interior’s Indian Arts and Crafts Board from 1937-1944, are documented in small amounts of biographical material and correspondence, published writings, printed material, scrapbooks, photographs of d'Harnoncourt and colleagues, and photographs of works of art. The collection also contains a drawing of d'Harnoncourt, and photocopies of caricatures of d'Harnoncourt and others.
Biographical material consists of d'Harnoncourt's official Austrian departure documents for his travel to Mexico in 1925; pages of an appointment book from 1932; and notes on d'Harnoncourt's career that index publications in which he is mentioned amongst other things, prepared by Sarah d'Harnoncourt.
Correspondence and memoranda relate primarily to the
Mexican Arts
exhibition, (1930-1932) sponsored by the American Federation of Arts; the "Art in America" radio program, organized by the American Federation of Arts with the cooperation of the Museum of Modern Art; d'Harnoncourt's part time teaching position at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville; and his appointment as General Manager of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board. Later correspondence references research on d'Harnoncourt's work for the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, and includes information on d'Harnoncourt, provided in response to inquiries about him.
Writings by d'Harnoncourt include published articles on Mexican and Indian arts and crafts, a 1969 reprint of d'Harnoncourt's and Frederic H. Douglas's expanded version of the catalog for
Indian Art of the United States
, a foreword, and two seminar/symposium papers. Unpublished writings comprise two typescripts. The series also includes several writings by others.
Printed material includes announcements and exhibition catalogs, documentation of the "Art in America Program," published books belonging to and/or referencing d’Harnoncourt, Department of Interior publications, including some issued by the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, Museum of Modern art press releases, news clippings relating to d’Harnoncourt and his activities, and miscellaneous printed material.
Additional clippings from a dismantled scrapbook(s) document the
Mexican Arts
exhibition.
Artwork and artifacts include one original sketch in colored pencil of d'Harnoncourt by Austrian artist, Silverbauer, photocopies of caricatures and doodles by d'Harnoncourt, Miguel Covarrubias, and Caroline Durieux, and two Indian Arts and Crafts Board weaving samples.
Photographs are of d'Harnoncourt, Sarah d'Harnoncourt, and friends and colleagues. They include a photograph of d'Harnoncourt by Manuel Alvarez-Bravo; snapshots of others including Fred Davis; Sarah d'Harnoncourt and folk art specialist, Victor Fosado; fellow Indian Arts and Crafts Board members, architect Henry Klumb, Alice Marriot, and anthropologist, author, and tribal council member, Gladys Tantaquidgeon. Also found are three photographs of
Mexican Art
exhibition installations; fourteen photographs of Native Americans; three photographs showing covers and/or fronts pieces of d'Harnoncourts books
Beast, Bird and Fish
,
Mexicana
,
The Hole in the Wall
, and
The Painted Pig
; and photographs of artwork included in the
Mexican Art
exhibition and an exhibition of
Australian Aboriginal Cave Paintings
(1947).
Biographical/Historical note
Art curator, lecturer, and museum director, René d’Harnoncourt (1901-1968), was an authority on Native American art and Mexican arts and crafts. He curated and toured with a traveling exhibition,
Mexican Art
, from 1930-1932, guest curated the exhibition,
Indian Art of the United States
, for the Museum of Modern Art in 1941, served on the Department of the Interior’s Indian Arts and Crafts Board from 1937-1944, and was Director of the Museum of Modern Art from 1949-1968.
D’Harnoncourt was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1901. He left Austria for Mexico in 1925, and began working for American, Frederick Davis, who owned a shop that sold Mexican antiquities and folk art in Mexico City. At this time, d'Harnoncourt made many important connections, including meeting American Ambassador to Mexico, Dwight Morrow, and his wife, Elizabeth Morrow. D'Harnoncourt illustrated several books in the early 1930s, including
The Painted Pig
(1930) and
Beast, Bird and Fish
(1933), both written by Elizabeth Morrow, and
The Hole in the Wall
(1931) and
Mexicana: A Book of Pictures
(1931). According to Sarah d'Harnoncourt, her husband considered himself an amateur in the field of book illustration, which he enjoyed as a means of self-amusement.
In 1929, d’Harnoncourt was asked to curate an extensive exhibition of Mexican art to travel to major cities in the United States, sponsored by the American Federation of Arts. D’Harnoncourt toured with this exhibition,
Mexican Art
, for two years, beginning at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in October, 1930.
D’Harnoncourt visited Austria briefly in 1932, then returned to the United States in 1933 and married Sarah Carr the same year. He became a naturalized United States citizen in 1939.
Between 1933 and 1944, d’Harnoncourt directed the radio program “Art in America," organized by the American Federation of Arts in cooperation with the Museum of Modern Art. He also taught art history at Sarah Lawrence College from 1934-1937. In 1936 he began working for the Indian Arts and Crafts Board of the Department of the Interior, becoming General Manager in 1937, and the Board’s Chairman in 1944. As General Manager he curated an exhibition on Indian art for the San Francisco Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939, and installed an expanded version of the exhibition,
Indian Art of the United States
, as guest curator for the Museum of Modern Art in 1940-1941.
In 1944, d’Harnoncourt joined the Museum of Modern Art as Vice President in charge of Foreign Activities, focusing his work on Latin America, and as Director of the Department of Manual Industries, responsible for the preservation of Native American art and culture. In 1949 he was appointed Director of the Museum of Modern Art, and served in this capacity until his death in an automobile accident in 1968.
Arrangement note
The collection is arranged as seven series.
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1925-circa 1978 (5 folders; Box 1)
Series 2: Correspondence and Memoranda, 1929-1981 (5 folders; Box 1)
Series 3: Writings, 1928-circa 1970s (0.4 linear feet; Box 1, OV 4)
Series 4: Printed Material, 1921-1979 (1.1 linear feet; Boxes 1-2, OV 4)
Series 5: Scrapbooks, 1930-1933 (0.3 linear feet; Box 2)
Series 6: Artwork and Artifacts, circa 1926-circa 1950s (3 folders; Box 3)
Series 7: Photographs, 1930-1983 (0.25 linear feet; Box 3, OV 4)
Provenance
The collection was donated by d'Harnoncourt's widow, Sarah d'Harnoncourt, in 1975, 1981, and 1984.
Location of Originals
  • Reels 2919-2931: Originals in: Museum of Modern Art.
Processing Information note
The collection received a minimal level of processing before being microfilmed on reels 3830-3831. The entire collection was reprocessed and a finding aid prepared by Stephanie Ashley in 2016.

Additional Forms Available

The collection is available on legacy 35 mm microfilm reels 3830-3831 at Archives of American Art offices, and through interlibrary loan. Researchers should note that the arrangement on microfilm may not match the arrangement described in this finding aid.

Restrictions on Access

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

Restrictions on Use

Reels 2919-2931: Authorization to publish requires written permission from Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd St., New York, N.Y. 10019. Museum of Modern Art requires full citation to include microfilm reel and frame numbers, and reference to MoMA as the owner of the RenÔe d'Harnoncourt papers.

How to Cite This Collection

René d'Harnoncourt papers, 1921-1983. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

  • No downloads available