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W. G. Constable papers, 1905-1983, bulk 1920-1976

W. G. Constable papers, 1905-1983, bulk 1920-1976

Constable, W. G. (William George), 1887-1976

Curator, Art historian

Representative image for W. G. Constable papers, 1905-1983, bulk 1920-1976

This site provides access to the papers of W. G. (William George) Constable in the Archives of American Art that were digitized in 2016, and total 59,055 images.

Funding for the processing of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art. Digitization of this collection was funded by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.

Collection Information

Size: 25.7 linear feet

Summary: The papers of art historian and museum curator W.G. (William George) Constable measure 25.7 linear feet and date from 1905 to 1981, with the bulk of the material from 1920 to 1976. The papers include biographical material; professional and personal correspondence; extensive lectures, writings, and notes; exhibition and book research files; printed materials; and photographs, glass plate negatives, and slides. There is substantive correspondence related to Constable's participation in the American Defense Harvard Group and about the formation of the Roberts Commission, including correspondence with Ralph Perry, Hugh Hencken, Paul Sachs and George L. Stout. There are numerous official reports prepared by Constable after World War II for the U. S. Office of Military Government for Germany.

Biographical material includes W.G. Constable's curriculum vitae; club memberships; personal, educational, and military records; three memorial essays and obituaries; five address books; appointment books dating from 1930-1968; and financial records related to personal business travels.

Correspondence is mostly professional and arranged into General, Committee, Condolences, and J.G. Links. General correspondence is with friends, business associates, auction houses, galleries, and museums. The letters cover a wide variety of professional work, such as research projects, letters of inquiry and recommendation, and work done for Christie's and the Internal Revenue Service. Correspondents include Mortimer Brandt, Helen Frick, Helen Gluck, William Ivins, Duncan Phillips, Paul Sachs, and Rudolph Vasalle, among many others.

Committee related correspondence includes letters, memoranda, and reports related to ongoing committee objectives, projects, and routine activities. There is correspondence related to Constable's advisory work with the Art Gallery of Toronto, the National Gallery of Canada, and the Watts Gallery, among other projects. Condolences consists of letters and cards received by Constable's wife, Olivia, after Constable's death. Correspondence with J.G. Links is primarily about the second edition revision of Constable's book, "Canaletto."

There are over 170 drafts of Constable's notes and outlines for lectures. Topics range from 13th-20th century European and American art to museum conservation, ethics, art education, and art collecting. The series also includes lecture notes from organized touring trips to Canada, Northern Europe, Scandinavia, and Poland.

Writings consist of Constable's published and unpublished articles, articles submitted for the "Encyclopedia of World Art," essays, notes, exhibition catalogs, translations, and drafts and research material related to "Art Collecting in the United States," "Art History and Connoisseurship," and "The Painter's Workshop."

Files specifically documenting Constable's advisory role in the World War II American Defense Harvard Group drafting and organizing lists of men with curatorial, museum conservation, or library/archives backgrounds to aid in the protection European most valued cultural artifacts, artwork, and architecture. There are letters documenting the formation of the Harvard Group and its goals and objections. The files also include many of the original lists that were forwarded to the Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in Europe, also known as the Roberts Commission, eventually leading to the formation of the U.S. Army's Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives division. The series also includes the Harvard Group's manual, "Safeguarding and Conserving Cultural Materials in the Field," committee minutes, and clippings related to their work. Correspondents include Ralph Perry, Paul Sachs, George L. Stout, and Hugh Hencken.

Constable's work after the war for the U.S. Office of Military Government for Germany is documented through numerous reports, memoranda, letters, and other official documents from the U. S. Army to Constable about surveying the state of German and Italian art institutions after World War II. The series also includes Constable's notebook "Visits in Germany" (1949), and a copy of his report, "Art and Reorientation: Status and Future of Museums and the Teaching of Art in Western Germany."

Exhibition files contain correspondence, notes, lists, research material, and reports related to exhibitions that Constable organized prior to his employment by and after his retirement from the Boston Museum of Art.

Research files contain materials relevant to Constable's interests and include notes, lists, correspondence, and printed and photographic reference material. These subject areas cover artists, including extensive files on Canaletto and other vedute painters, museum conservation, museums and galleries, private and public art collections, and schools of art.

Printed materials include clippings, programs, book excerpts and other miscellaneous printed materials.

Photographic materials include prints of Constable with friends and family, as well as prints, glass negatives, and slides of artwork. There are also prints of the Fogg Art Museum's interiors and exterior and interior shots of Tennessee Valley Authority dam projects.

Biographical/Historical Note

W.G. Constable (1887-1976) was an art historian and museum curator in Boston, Massachusetts. Born in Derby, England, and studied for the bar at Cambridge University. Following World War I military service, he decided to pursue art instead of law. For three years, he attended the Slade School and the Bartlett School of Architecture. In 1923, he joined the National Gallery, becoming Assistant Director in 1929, but accepted the position of Director of the Courtauld Institute the following year. In 1938, Constable became Curator of Paintings at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts until his retirement in 1957. W. G. Constable was a distant relative of the early 19th century British painter, John Constable.

Provenance

The papers of W.G. Constable were donated in multiple gifts from 1978 to 1979 and in 1987 to 1988 by his son Giles Constable. Four additional boxes of Constable's research on Canaletto were donated by researcher J.G. Links in 1985.

Related Materials

Additional W.G. Constable papers are located at archival materials are also located at St. Johns College in Cambridge, England; the Warburg Institute in London, England; the National Gallery in London, England; and the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning in London, England. Photographs of works art collected by Constable are found at the British Studies Center at Yale University. Records relating to his tenure at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston are housed there.

Funding

Funding for the processing of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art. Digitization of this collection was funded by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.

A Finding Aid to the W.G. Constable Papers, 1905-1983, bulk 1920-1976, in the Archives of American Art
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Biographical/Historical note
W. G. (William George) Constable (1887-1976) was a museum curator and art historian who worked in England and Boston.
Born in Derby, England, Constable studied for the bar at Cambridge University, but was encouraged to pursue art over law by the Lord Chancellor who told him that law would be too strenuous after a two year convalescence from gassing during World War I. For three years, he studied at the Slade School and the Bartlett School of Architecture. In 1923, he joined the National Gallery of London where he became the Assistant Director in 1929. In 1930, he accepted the first Director's position at the newly formed Courtauld Institute, where he worked to develop one of the first programs on art history. In 1938, Constable became Curator of Paintings at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and worked there until his retirement in 1957.
Throughout his career as an arts administrator, Constable remained an accomplished lecturer and held appointments as the Slade Professor of Art at Cambridge (1933-1936), Ryerson Lecturer at Yale University (1940), and the Lowell Lecturer at the Lowell Insitute (1958). As a researcher and art historian, he published a steady stream of essays on European and American art connoisseurship, and authored over ten scholarly books, including
The Painter's Workshop
(1953),
Richard Wilson
(1953), and
Canaletto
(1962), the definitive work on the Venetian master.
Constable was a trusted arts advisor and, in this capacity, worked for the Wadsworth Atheneum from 1943-1945. He also worked closely with Lord Beaverbrook to establish the National Gallery of Canada and later consulted for Sotheby's and the U. S. Internal Revenue Service.
In the years leading to World War II, Constable served as an advisor to the American Defense Harvard Group and was later appointed to the Commission for the Protection of Artistic and Historic Monuments in Europe (the Roberts Commission) by President Roosevelt. The Roberts Commission was responsible for the establishment of the U. S. Army's Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section. After the war, Constable served the U.S. government as a member of a commission responsible for the recovery of looted art work and the evaluation of the state of the arts in Germany and Italy.
After his retirement from the Boston Museum, Constable continued to research and write, and also served as president of the International Institute of Conservation (1958-1960) and the Renaissance Society of America (1959-1961). From 1957 to 1966, he worked on behalf of Christie's auction house, where he met with prospective clients and provided preliminary valuations of private art works and collections.
On February 4, 1976, Constable died in Cambridge, Massachusetts from natural causes.
Arrangement note
The collection is arranged as 10 series.
Series 1: Biographical Materials, 1905-1983 (1.2 linear feet; Box 1-2, OV 28)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1906-1981 (6.2 linear feet; Box 2-8, OV 28-29)
Series 3: Lectures, 1909-1963 (4.6 linear feet; Box 8-12)
Series 4: Writings and Notes, 1910-1974 (2 linear feet; Box 13-14)
Series 5: American Defense Harvard Group, 1942-1946 (0.6 linear feet; Box 15)
Series 6: Office of Military Government for Germany, 1947-1952 (0.3 linear feet; Box 15)
Series 7: Exhibition Files, 1930-1969 (1 linear foot; Box 15-16, OV 29)
Series 8: Research Files, 1922-1976 (7.5 linear feet; Box 16-24, OV 28-29)
Series 9: Printed Material, 1921-1977 (0.5 linear feet; Box 24)
Series 10: Photographic Materials, circa 1940-1960 (1.4 linear feet; Box 24-27, OV 28-29)
Provenance
The papers of W.G. Constable were donated in multiple gifts from 1978 to 1979 and in 1987 to 1988 by his son Giles Constable. Four additional boxes of Constable's research on Canaletto were donated by researcher J.G. Links in 1985.
Processing Information note
The collection received preliminary processing upon arrival at the Archives and portions of the Constable papers were microfilmed on reels 3060-3089. All previously filmed and unfilmed accessions were merged into one logical arrangement and described by Judy Ng in 2012 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art. Glass plate negatives re-housed in 2014 with funding provided by the Smithsonian Collections Care and Preservation Fund. The collection was digitized in 2016 with funding provided by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.

Additional Forms Available

The bulk of the collection was digitized in 2016 and is available on the Archives of American Art's website. Materials which have not been scanned include blank pages, blank versos of photographs, and duplicates. Negatives and slides of artwork in Series 2, 4, 5, and 8 have not been scanned. In some cases, exhibition catalogs and other publications have had their covers, title pages, and relevant pages scanned.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment. Glass plate negatives are housed separately and closed to researchers.

How to Cite This Collection

W. G. Constable papers, 1905-1983, bulk 1920-1976. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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