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COLLECTION Identifier: SC 7

Papers of Perry T. Rathbone, 1929-1933


Student artwork and research notes of Perry Townsend Rathbone (Class of 1933).


  • 1929-1933


Conditions Governing Access

Access: Unrestricted.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright: The donor has transferred any copyright held in these papers to the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright in some papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns. Researchers must obtain the written permission of the holder(s) of copyright and the Harvard Art Museums Archives before publishing quotations from any material in the collection.

Copying: Papers may be copied in accordance with the Harvard Art Museums Archives' usual procedures.


2 linear feet (1 half file box, oversize materials)

The Rathbone papers date from the art historian's undergraduate years (1929-1933), though the papers themselves are not dated. The collection includes artistic works (graphite and pen and ink drawings, watercolors, and a small gilded panel), a student art folder and a leather notebook containing research or study notes. The papers are arranged by format. Artistic works are arranged by the Fine Arts (F.A.) class for which they were created (eg. F.A. 2a, F.A. 3c, etc.). It should be noted that "Section 2" is a title derived from the papers themselves, and it is unclear which specific Fine Arts course number they relate to. The notes remain in the order in which they came to the Archives. All the material is in good condition and has been housed in acid free folders.

The collection consists of two series: Student Artwork and Research Notes. Series I, Student Artwork, contains works completed for several Fine Arts classes at Harvard College. The works include drawings of ancient monuments, figure studies, as well as value exercises executed in both watercolor and graphite. The small demonstration panel bears a high-relief carving of a crown-like shape, and is painted in red bole and covered in gilt . The four-pronged, geometric form was likely carved into the gesso by Rathbone.

Series II, Research Notes, consists largely of handwritten notes on loose leaf paper, a leather notebook cover, and an extraneous scrap of paper. The notes, taken from a selection of books on Ancient art, cover a wide range of topics, including history, painting, sculpture, and architecture, as well as ancient Egypt, Greece, Mesopotamia, Minoa, Sumeria, and Rome. These notes were originally held in the leather notebook; they were removed for preservation purposes. There is also a fragment of paper containing notes on contemporary American art.

The processor retained as folder titles the labels assigned by Rathbone (e.g. Fa 2a) , but added information to clarify the contents of the folders. This information appears in the following folder list in square brackets,.


Lauded art historian Perry Townsend Rathbone was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania in 1911. His early childhood was spent in New York City, and later in New Rochelle, New York. In 1929 he began his undergraduate studies at Harvard College, focusing his attention primarily on the study of Fine Arts. While at Harvard, Rathbone was heavily involved with the arts community, and eventually became co-director of the Harvard Society of Contemporary Art with fellow classmate Otto Wittmann. After graduating in 1933, Rathbone took the famed "museum course" under the direction of Paul J. Sachs.Fellow classmates included: Henry McIlhenny, Thomas Howe, John Newberry, James Plaut, and Charles Cunningham.

Rathbone's first job as a newly minted graduate was at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1934. After two years, he left the Institute to direct the Alger House, a branch museum in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. In 1940, at the age of 29, Rathbone was appointed director of the City Art Museum, St. Louis, now the St. Louis Art Museum. However, his tenure at the museum was interrupted; during World War II, Rathbone spent eighteen months in the South Pacific as a U.S. Naval officer. After returning from the War, Rathbone resumed his position at the City Art Museum and focused his attention on expanding the museum's collections, programs, and membership. The museum director became known for his publicity skills, as well as for championing contemporary art. Rathbone organized the first retrospective show of the German Expressionist Max Beckmann, and even secured the artist a teaching position at Washington University.

In 1955,Rathbone was appointed director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. During his tenure, the museum experienced both great expansion and renovation: under his leadership, the staff was doubled, the budget quadrupled, membership dramatically increased, departmental collections expanded, and 57 of the museum's 189 galleries were modernized. After leaving the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in 1972, Rathbone went on to head Christie's in New York City. In 1977, when Christie's became a full-fledged auction house, he was appointed "museum liaison", a position he held until his retirement in 1985. Although officially retired, Rathbone continued to serve as a consultant at the auction house until 1995.

Related Materials

Additional papers of Perry T. Rathbone are held by the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art. Oral histories may also be found at the Archives of American Art, as well as at Columbia University's Butler Library.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The collection was donated to the Harvard Art Museums in 2007 by Rathbone's children, Peter, Eliza, and Belinda Rathbone.

Processing Information:

The collection was processed in October 2010 by Katherine I. Williamson with assistance from Susan von Salis and Erin Mackin.

Papers of Perry T. Rathbone (SC 7), 1929-1933: A Guide
Harvard Art Museums Archives
Language of description

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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