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Wilhelm Reinhold Valentiner papers, 1853-1977

Valentiner, Wilhelm Reinhold, 1880-1958

Museum director, Author, Art historian

This site provides access to the papers of Wilhelm Reinhold Valentiner in the Archives of American Art that were digitized in 2016, and total 13,897 images.

Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.

Collection Information

Size: 6.9 linear feet

Summary: The papers of art historian and museum director Wilhelm Reinhold Valentiner measure 6.9 linear feet and date from 1853 to 1977. Found within the collection are biographical materials, including information on the Lepsius and Valentiner families; correspondence with family, friends, art collectors, and art historians; seven diaries; additional writings and notes; printed materials; three clippings scrapbooks; artwork in the form of prints and woodcuts; and photographs of Valentiner and his family and friends, including two photograph albums.
Biographical materials include certificates, membership cards, a curriculum vitae, and genealogical information on the Valentiner and Lepsius families.
Correspondence includes letters in German from Valentiner's parents, siblings, extended family members, and his wife and daughter. General correspondence includes letters and cards in German and English from art historian mentors and peers, including Wilhelm von Bode, Cornelius Hofstede de Groot, Carl Heise, and Herman Colenbrander, as well as art collectors and friends, including John McIlhenny, Andrew Mellon, Edsel Ford, Maria Sarre, and Helen Wills Moody Roark.
Seven diaries dated 1910-1939 were written in German, some of which also contain sketches, photographs, and other enclosures. Additional writings and notes consist of autobiographical writings, numerous essays, lectures, and monographs on Italian and Dutch art and artists, and reports and lectures on exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Detroit Institute of Arts. Lecture seminar notes appear to have been written while Valentiner was a student in Germany, and materials related to "Arbeitsrat für Kunst" date from the period after Valentiner's military service when he served as a chairman to the newly formed Working Council for the Arts, prior to his return to America in 1921.
Printed material includes bulletins, exhibition catalogs, clippings, and three clippings scrapbooks, which document Valentiner's professional career in New York and Detroit.
Photographic materials are of Wilhelm Valentiner, his immediate and extended family members, and his friends. Photos of Valentiner are from his youth, military service in Germany, and his personal and professional career in the U.S. Photographs of friends include art scholars, collectors, and family friends, including Maria Sarre, Helen Wills Moody Rorke, and Anne Morgan, the daughter of Pierpoint Morgan. There are also a handful of reproductions of artwork used as scholarly references in his writings. The two photo albums focus on Valentiner's family and friends from his youth in Germany, and Valentiner with family members later in his life.
Artwork in the collection consists of prints from a page in a German book, a bookplate, and two woodcuts by unidentified artists.

Biographical/Historical Note

Wilhelm Reinhold Valentiner (1880-1958) was a museum director, writer, and art historian who lived in New York, New York, Detroit,Michigan, and Raleigh, North Carolina and was known for his leadership and collection development during his tenure at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Detroit Institute of Arts. Born in Karlsruhe, Germany. Director, Detroit Institute of Arts, 1924-1946, Director-Consultant, Los Angeles Museum of Art, 1946-1954, Director, Getty Museum, Santa Monica, California, 1954, Director, North Carolina Museum of Art, 1955-1958. Editor, Art in America, 1913-1931, and author of books on Dutch painting and modern sculpture.


From 1972 to 1977, Valentiner's papers were gathered from various sources by historian Margaret Sterne who was researching and writing a biography of Valentiner. Sterne died just prior to publication and the papers were sorted by Archives' staff and returned to the lender when known. After publication of the biography, the bulk of the papers were returned to their respective lenders (primarily the University of North Carolina) and the remaining papers were sorted and accessioned by the Archives. Donors are listed as unknown or anonymous.

Related Materials

Also found in the Archives of American Art are the Mary E. Adams letters from Wilhelm Valentiner and an oral history interview with Mary and Clinton Adams conducted by Paul Karlstrom, April 24, 1998. The North Carolina Museum of Art also holds papers of Wilhelm Valentiner, most of which are also avai

Language Note

Reel D31 portions are in German.


Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.

Location of Originals

  • Reels 2140-2144: Originals in the North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, North Carolina.