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SERIES Identifier: HC 5, I.

General Correspondence

Scope and Content

The correspondence in this series covers many topics, reflecting Coolidge and Mongan's involvement in a wide range of activities. Although their papers are interspersed, the bulk was generated by Coolidge and his administration (1948-1968). The bulk of Mongan's papers in this collection were created during her administration of the museum (1968-1971), but there is some earlier correspondence, beginning as early as the 1940s. In addition, there is material in the collection from former directors Edward Forbes and Arthur Pope, former associate director Paul Sachs, and subsequent directors Daniel Robbins and Seymour Slive. Topics covered include: museum acquisitions and exhibitions; loans of objects to and from other museums; the daily administration of the Fogg Museum (including staffing concerns, exhibition planning and other matters); fundraising, budgets and financial planning; teaching and research; publications; symposia; collectors and their collections; gifts and bequests; and travel, among other things. Many of the folders contain a mixture of correspondence and other materials. Correspondence includes both sent and received letters. Sent correspondence is usually in the form of carbon copies, and occasionally there are transcriptions of handwritten letters.

Coolidge's range of correspondents was extensive. In the course of the daily administration of the Fogg Museum, he corresponded with administrative staff, curators, faculty, donors, colleagues at other museums, students and former students, members of the museum's Visiting Committee, work contractors, art dealers, art historians, artists, collectors and the general public. He often received solicitations from artists and collectors hoping to sell or donate objects to the museum, and he was an active advisor to museum professionals across the country and abroad on matters ranging from staffing recommendations to exhibitions and symposia.

The papers include correspondence with and about those who served as assistant to the director under Coolidge. This position, usually held for a one to two year period, served as both a mentorship to young scholars and an introduction to the daily administrative demands of running a museum, and those who held it often went on to prominent careers in other museums and institutions. The assistants to the director included Thomas W. Leavitt, Rudolf Riefstahl, Jules Prown, Richard Field, Edward A. Ruesing, Charles W. Millard III, Peter A. Wick and Henry Berg.

Coolidge also taught at Harvard, most notably a course known as the Museum Course (Fine Arts 201), and the collection includes correspondence and other materials related to this course and its students. Each semester Coolidge took his students on trips to visit museums and private collections in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Toledo, Washington, D.C. and western Massachusetts, among other places, and the course also involved visits to Boston art dealers. Among Coolidge's students were Paul Barolsky, David Brooke, Charles Chetham, Bernice Davidson, Stuart Feld, Desmond FitzGerald, James Holderbaum, William Homer, Rosalind Krauss, Irving Lavin, Henry Millon, Kathleen Posner (now Kathleen Weil-Garris Brandt), Richard Randall and Evan H. Turner. The assistants to the director also took this course during their tenure. Many of Coolidge's students went on to become museum professionals or professors of art history, attaining prominent positions in museums and academic institutions in the United States and Europe. The collection includes correspondence with them as students and - subsequently - as colleagues. Coolidge was actively involved in his students' professional placement, and there are many letters of recommendation written on behalf of former students who applied for professional positions or grants.

Coolidge also frequently corresponded with artists, about their work (including objects in the Fogg collection), their participation in Harvard-sponsored symposia and projects, and other matters. These correspondents include: Leonard Baskin, Alexander Calder, Anthony Caro, Lux Feininger, Naum Gabo, Al Hirschfield, Hilda Katz, Clarence John Laughlin, Jack Levine, Jacques Lipchitz, William H. Littlefield, Jacques Meunier, James Marcus Mitchell, Robert Motherwell, Jules Olitski, Ben Shahn, Walter Stein and James West, among many others. Also of note is a detailed outline of artist Lewis Rubenstein's 1952 demonstration lecture on Orozco's fresco techniques and correspondence with writer Ruthven Todd.

The collection includes extensive correspondence with scholars, at Harvard and elsewhere. These correspondents include James Ackerman, Bernard Berenson, Harry Bober, Frederick Deknatel, S. Lane Faison, Sydney Freedberg, Fiske Kimball, Howard Hibbard, Michael Jaffé, Horst Janson, Klaus Lankheit, Irving Lavin, Millard Meiss, John Rewald, Jakob Rosenberg, Eduard Sekler, Seymour Slive and Jeanne Wasserman, among many others. Coolidge helped organize a symposium on modern painting early in his tenure at the Fogg, in April 1951, at which Oliver Larkin, Robert Motherwell, Meyer Schapiro and Ben Shahn spoke. The collection includes correspondence with the speakers as well as typescripts of their talks. There is also correspondence with visiting lecturers from around the world, as well as material related to a 1967 symposium, Master Bronzes from the Classical World. There is correspondence related to Coolidge's involvement with the founding of the Society of Architectural Historians in 1940, as well, primarily with Turpin Bannister, Henry Russell Hitchcock and Carroll Meeks.

Coolidge also corresponded with collectors, notably Walter Arensberg, Curtis Baer, Walter C. Baker, Ralph Colin, Charles Dunlap, Robert Endicott, Edward Grant, Joseph Hazen, Alex Hillman, Philip Hofer, R. Sturgis Ingersoll, Maxim Karolik, Lillian Malcove, Henry McIlhenny, Arthur and Paul Sachs, Joseph Shulman, Chauncey Stillman and G. David Thompson. Many of these collectors served on the Fogg's Visiting Committee. The papers also include correspondence between Agnes Mongan and collector Martin Bodmer as well as a memorandum detailing John Rewald's 1951 visit to see paintings from the collection of the late Ambroise Vollard, then in the possession of Robert de Galéa.

The collection includes many letters from students, scholars and other acquaintances written during overseas travels. There are also letters from Coolidge, written during his 1959 travels in the Soviet Union; of note is a letter to Irving Lavin about the Bernini bozzetti that Coolidge had seen in the Hermitage Museum. There is also interesting correspondence from Seymour Slive about his visit to the Soviet Union in 1960, and countless letters from students and colleagues studying abroad, most often in Italy.

There is also material in the collection about various affiliated institutions, notably the Busch-Reisinger Museum, Dumbarton Oaks, the Villa I Tatti and Harvard's Fine Arts Library. There is a significant amount of correspondence about the legal and personal aspects of Bernard Berenson's bequest of I Tatti to Harvard, and the challenges of establishing an academic and institutional framework there during its early years. There is also extensive correspondence - primarily with George M. A. Hanfmann - about the archaeological exploration of Sardis, an excavation and research program focused on the site of ancient Sardis, in modern Turkey, and jointly sponsored by Harvard.

The collection includes correspondence about myriad other projects and events. There are materials related to several museum-sponsored publication endeavors, most notably the publication of the Houghton Shahnameh. There is also material related to the Syrian Metropolitan Athanasius Yeshue Samuel's 1950 deposit of one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the so-called Lamech Scroll, in the museum's conservation center for unrolling and conservation work. (The owner ultimately withdrew the scroll before any work was completed.) In addition, there is correspondence - including a letter from Coolidge to Pope John XXIII - about the decision to send Michelangelo's Pietà to the New York World's Fair, held in 1964. Coolidge, along many others in museum and academic communities, was strongly opposed to the decision and publicly advocated for its reversal.

Also of interest is Agnes Mongan's correspondence with close friends Margaret and Alfred Barr. These letters, in folders 162 through 167, were added to the collection in 1987; prior to that, Mongan presumably kept them in her home. Most of the letters are those she received from the Barrs, although there are a few copies of outgoing letters, as well. This correspondence provides insight into many people and events, notably Alfred Barr's struggles with the trustees of the Museum of Modern Art and his demotion in 1943; news and gossip about prominent scholars and artists in New York; Mongan's relationship with Paul Sachs; and more personal matters.


  • Creation: 1909 - 2006

Conditions on Access:

Access to most of the papers is unrestricted. Access to files containing information on personnel matters, student academic records and other materials deemed confidential is restricted. These restrictions are noted at the file level.


65 linear feet (152 file boxes, oversize materials)


Repository Details

Part of the Harvard Art Museums Archives Repository

The Harvard Art Museums Archives is the official repository for institutional records and historical documents in all formats relating to the Fogg Museum, the Busch-Reisinger Museum, and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, 1895 to the present. Its collections include papers of individuals and groups associated with the museums' history, including records of past exhibitions, architectural plans, photographs, scrapbooks, and memorabilia, as well as correspondence with collectors, gallery owners, museum professionals, and artists throughout the twentieth century. Its holdings also document the formation of the museums' collections and its mission as a teaching institution.

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Harvard University
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