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William Mills Ivins papers, 1878-1964

William Mills Ivins papers, 1878-1964

Ivins, William Mills, 1881-1961

Curator, Lawyer

Collection Information

Size: 20.6 linear ft.

Summary: Correspondence, writings, notes, and photographs; and Ivins family papers.

Biographical/Historical Note

Museum curator, director; New York, N.Y. Lawyer, 1907-1916; Curator of Prints, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1916-1946; Honorary Curator of Prints, Pierpont Morgan Library, 1938- ; Assistant Director, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1933-1938; Acting Director, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1938-1940.


Donated 1977-1983 by Barbara Ivins, daughter of William Ivins, Jr.

A Finding Aid to the William Mills Ivins Papers,
, in the Archives of American Art
Finding aid prepared by Cathy Stover
Biographical Note
William Mills Ivins, Jr. (1881-1961), a lawyer, first became interested in collecting prints and illustrated books while an undergraduate at Harvard. He studied the history of printmaking through self-directed reading, by looking at prints in the major European libraries and museums, and tried his hand at many of the printmaking processes. While practicing law, he wrote articles and organized some small exhibitions of prints as early as 1908. In 1916, the Metropolitan Museum of Art appointed its first Curator of Prints to organized a Department of Prints and Drawings and to develop its small existing collection. Upon the recommendation of Paul J. Sachs who was unable to accept the position, Ivins was selected. He held the post until his retirement some thirty years later.
During his tenure as Curator of Prints, Ivins became one of the most highly respected individuals in the profession. Under Ivins the collection grew in scope, size, and quality; he acquired materials by cultivating potential donors, and through systematic purchase of pieces not likely to come into the collection by bequest. The department's active exhibition schedule included some especially noteworthy shows, such as The Arts of the Book in 1924.
Ivins was knowledgeable and shared information by writing several books on prints and the history of printmaking, and by writing large numbers of articles for the educated layman. His articles often highlighted items in the permanent collection, and frequently appeared in the museum's
He was interested in perspective, psychology of perception, aesthetics, mathematics and modern philosophy, and wrote on these topics, as well.
He was an accomplished speaker and was in much demand as a lecturer. Of particular note were his series on Illustrated Books of the Renaissance at the Morgan Library in 1936, and the 1950 Lowell Lectures (subsequently published under the title
Prints and Visual Communication).
In addition to his curatorial duties, Ivins served as Assistant Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art between 1933 and 1938, and was its Acting Director from 1938 until 1940. Francis Henry Taylor was appointed Director in 1940, and Ivins was named to the newly created post of Counselor; failure to attain the directorship was a bitter disappointment, which many attributed to his lack of tact and generally difficult disposition.
Ivins retired in 1946, and continued to write and publish until the mid-1950's. During this period he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Yale University (1946), made an honorary fellow of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1946), named a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1950), and invited to deliver the annual lectures at the Lowell Institute (1950). He died at the age of eighty in 1961, after several years of declining health.
Ivins' private collection of prints and illustrated books, which he had continue to amass through the 1930's, was partially dispersed during his lifetime through gifts to the Metropolitan Museum and to a number of university and special libraries. The portion remaining in his estate was sold at auction by Parke Bernet between 1962 and 1964.
born to William Mills Ivins and Emma Yard Ivins, Flatbush, N.Y.
attended King's School, Stamford, Conn.
trip to South America with father
graduation from St. Paul's School, Concord, N.H.
graduation from Harvard (A.B.)
travelled in Europe with Paul Haviland, and studied economics at University of Munich
employed by
The World's Work,
writing articles on economic and artistic subjects
graduation from Columbia School of Law
practiced law in New York City: Ivins, Wolff and Houget for New York Public Service Commission, 1907-1908; Strong and Cadwallader, 1908-1909; Cravath, Henderson, and der Gersdorff, 1909-1916
arranged first exhibition of prints, Keppel & Co,
marriage to Florence Wyman, an illustrator
appointed first Curator of Prints, Metropolitan Museum of Art
c. 1927-1935
served on editorial board of
Metropolitan Museum Studies
Assistant Director, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Morgan Library Lectures
Honorary Curator of Prints and Drawings, Morgan Library
Acting Director, Metropolitan Museum of Art (Note: Mr. Ivins continued to act as Curator of Prints during periods when he was assigned other major administrative responsibilities at the museum)
Counselor, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Honorary Fellow, Metropolitan Museum of Art; retirement from Metropolitan Museum of Art; Honorary Doctorate, Yale University
Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences; Lowell Lectures (published in 1953 under the title
Prints and Visual Communication)
Ivins Collection of Prints and Illustrated Books sold at auction by Parke Bernet
William M. Ivins, Jr. Papers donated to the Archives of American Art by his daughter, Barbara Ivins
The collection has been arranged into 7 series. The contents and organization are noted in the individual series descriptions.
Series 1: Professional and Personal Papers, circa 1908-1961 (Boxes 1-8; 6.5 linear ft.)
Series 2: Writings, circa 1910-1960 (Boxes 8-12; 4.9 linear ft.)
Series 3: Publications, 1896-1958 (Boxes 13-14; 2.0 linear ft.)
Series 4: Miscellaneous, 1915, undated (Box 15; 1.0 linear ft.)
Series 5: Ivins Family Papers, 1878-1964, undated (Boxes 16-20; 4.5 linear ft.)
Series 6: Photographs, circa 1890-1940 (Boxes 20-21; 1.5 linear ft.)
Series 7: Oversized Material, 1897-1950 (1 OV folder)
Scope and Content Note
The papers, 1878-1964 (20.6 linear feet) of museum curator, director, and art scholar William Mills Ivins (1881-1961) consist of personal and professional correspondence, writings, notes, photographs, and Ivins family papers. Ivins was Curator of Prints, 1916-1946, Assistant Director, 1933-1938, and Acting Director, 1938-1940 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The collection contains professional and personal correspondence with art historians, art dealers, museum curators, print and book collectors, and artists concerning the history of print making, book design and illustration, print collectors and collecting, exhibitions, and museum administration. Correspondence files appear to be complete, and correspondence is of substantive content. Also found are Ivins' published and unpublished writings and lectures, and notes. Of particular interest are the letters from Bernard Berenson, Paul J. Sachs, and Theodore Sizer, each of whom corresponded with Ivins freqently over extended periods about both personal and professional and matters.
Ivins' family papers include family correspondence, genealogies, and photographs. The papers of Ivin's wife, illustrator Florence Wyman Ivins (1881-1948), and the correspondence of several other relatives, can be found here augmented by family photographs.
Donated 1977-1983 by Barbara Ivins, daughter of William Ivins, Jr.
Processing Information
The collection was processed and the finding aid written by Cathy Stover in 1988. The finding aid was modified during EAD conversion by Stephanie Ashley in 2002. Additional work on the collection was completed by intern Carrol Park in 2012.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

How to Cite This Collection

William Mills Ivins papers, 1878-1964. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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