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

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

Curator, Art historian

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 59,054 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. Glass plate negatives in this collection were digitized in 2019 with funding provided by the Smithsonian Women's Committee.

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, Scandanavia, 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. (William George) Constable (1887-1976) was a museum curator and art historian who worked in England and Boston.


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. Additional material regarding Constable's research on Canaletto was donated by researcher J.G. Links in 1985.

Related Materials

Language Note

The collection is in English.


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. Glass plate negatives in this collection were digitized in 2019 with funding provided by the Smithsonian Women's Committee.