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Thomas Hess papers, 1939-1978

Hess, Thomas B., 1920-1978

Editor, Author, Arts administrator, Art critic

Collection Information

Size: 10.0 linear feet

Summary: The papers of New York editor and art critic Thomas Hess measure 10.0 linear feet and date from 1939 to 1978. The collection includes biographical materials, correspondence, extensive writings and notes, artists and subject files that also include recorded conversations with artists and others, printed materials, photographic materials, and artwork.
Biographical material includes a certificate, architectural plans, investment information, invoices, publisher and loan agreements, will for Paul Stamm, and resumes. Correspondence is with members of Hess' family including his wife and children, Philip Guston, Meyer Schapiro, David Smith, James Schuyler, Forrest Bess, Elaine de Kooning, Barnett Newman, Larry Rivers, Clyfford Still, Ad Reinhardt, and others.
Writings and notes consist of manuscripts and drafts by Hess for "Art News," "Le Monde," "Vogue," "New York" magazine, and other publications; Hess' senior essay and class notes; notes on Ingres, Italian artists, and travels abroad; notebooks on art and literature; and scattered writings by others.
Artists and subject files contain primarily photographs of artwork, artists, and colleagues. Some of the files also contain printed materials, writings, notes, and other documentation. The file on Willem de Kooning includes a sound recording of a conversation between Hess, de Kooning, and Harold Rosenberg. There are also significant files on Elaine de Kooning, Helen Frankenthaler, Adolph Gottlieb, Franz Kline, Carl Milles, Barnett Newman, Isamu Noguchi, Ad Reinhardt, Mark Rothko, and the Mark Rothko Foundation Inc.
Printed materials include brochures and flyers, clippings, magazines and newspapers, press releases, travel memorabilia, and a printed scarf. Photographs are of of Hess, his wife Audrey, other family members, works of art, travel, Larry Rivers and Ad Reinhardt, and other artists and colleagues. Artwork includes drawings, paintings, collages, cartoons, and holiday cards made by Hess and his children, along with artwork by others including Audrey and Lawrence Campbell, Ad Reinhardt, and unidentified artists.

Biographical/Historical Note

Thomas Hess (1920-1978) was an editor and art critic in New York, New York. Hess of was editor of "Art News," 1946-1972 and wrote several books on American art, including "Abstract Painting: Background and American Phase," 1951; "Willem de Kooning," 1959, 1967, 1968; "Barnett Newman," 1969, 1974; and "Ad Reinhardt Cartoons," 1972.


The Thomas Hess papers were donated in multiple increments from 1985 to 1987 by Hess' children, Anne Helen, William, and Philip Hess, except for a file on Barnett Newman donated by Newman's widow, who presumably had borrowed it from Hess. In 2014, additional correspondence, writings, photographs, printed material, and cartoons, including some by Ad Reinhardt, were donated by Elizabeth Wolff, Hess' sister.

Related Materials

Language Note

The collection is in English and French.


Funding for the processing of this collection was provided by the Smithsonian Institution Collections Care and Preservation Fund.

Location of Originals

  • Reel 5028 relating to Barnett Newmann: Originals located at the Barnett Newman Foundation, 654 Madison Ave., #1900, New York, N.Y.