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COLLECTION Identifier: SC 21

Papers of Grenville L. Winthrop, 1885-2000


Personal papers of Grenville L. Winthrop, Harvard alumnus and art collector. Papers relate to the development of his art collection from the late nineteenth century into the mid twentieth century, with the bulk between the 1920s and 1943. Documents include correspondence, legal documents, scrapbooks, datebooks, accounts, photographs, book chapters, articles, and index files of the artwork in the collection.


  • 1885-2000

Conditions on Access:

Access: Unrestricted

Conditions on Use:

Copyright: Copyright in the papers in the collection may be held by Grenville L. Winthrop's heirs or assigns. Copyright in other papers 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 Museum Archives before publishing any material in the collection.

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


32 linear feet (12 file boxes, 3 oversized boxes, 2 index card boxes, 1 photograph box)
The Grenville L. Winthrop Papers contain materials gathered by Winthrop during his lifetime relating to the development of his art collection. He donated the papers to Harvard University along with his art collection and the contents of his homes in upon his death in 1943. The bulk of the collection includes correspondence, legal documents, photographs, personal accounts, and scrapbook materials. Some of these papers were written by Winthrop, others include correspondence from dealers, artists, and art critics. The remainder of the papers include items surrounding Harvard’s acceptance, organization, and installation of the art collection after Winthrop’s passing. The documents date from 1864-1943, with the bulk of the materials between the 1920s and the 1930s.

The folders were first arranged in 1970 by museum staff and their filing system is described in the folder “Index - Winthrop Files [1969-2000].” Additionally, there are memo notes (mostly written on blue paper) interspersed throughout the collection that were written by museum staff to explain some of the structuring decisions, and H. Wade White (a Fogg Museum employee) wrote accession numbers on the documents where he identified references to known pieces of artwork. Currently, the collection is divided into six series, with the folder in each series arranged alphabetically, and then chronologically.

Most of the documents were already housed in archival folders, with the exception of the biographical materials and some of the pre-installation materials. These remaining items were moved into acid-free folders, and oversized items were housed appropriately for their size. In 1998, the Harvard Art Museums Archives experienced a flood that caused water damage to many of the papers in the collection. Thus, some of the papers may be difficult to read and items sustaining severe damage may be unavailable for use. Information on the container list and on the folders written within square brackets was added by the processor and is supplemental to the pre-existing folder titles.


Grenville L. Winthrop was born on February 11, 1864 to a wealthy and well-established American family and descended from two colonial governors. Winthrop’s family lived in New York City, and as a child he attended Everson’s Collegiate School in New York. Several years later, in 1882, he attended Harvard College as an undergraduate student. While at Harvard, he studied natural history, but took several classes with the well-known professor Charles Eliot Norton, who was among the first professors of fine arts to develop an art history curriculum. Norton’s lectures and seminars had a lasting influence on Winthrop and he would always closely associate education with fine arts collecting.

After graduating from Harvard in 1887, Winthrop attended Harvard Law School, earning a degree in 1889. He then left Cambridge for New York City, where he co-founded a law firm. On June 2, 1892, he married Mary Tallmadge Trevor, with whom he had two daughters, Emily Winthrop (later Emily Winthrop Miles) and Kate Winthrop (later Kate Winthrop Morse). Several years into their marriage, Winthrop retired from law and focused on his art collection. The family had two houses, one in New York City, and the other in Lenox, Massachusetts, called Groton Place. Mary died in 1900 and Winthrop never remarried.

Winthrop spent most of his time in New York, but he was also involved in the Lenox community. There, he was a member (and later president) of the Board of Managers of the Town Library Association. As a philanthropist, he restored the courthouse and library building, and he bought the top of Bald Head Mountain to preserve it. Furthermore, he developed the land around Groton Place into a unique landscape that won him the H.H. Hunnewell Gold Medal from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in 1934. The grounds were carefully maintained according to Winthrop's personal aesthetic. Instead of gardens, pheasants and peacocks provided colorful contrast to the artful groupings of trees and shrubbery.

During these years, Winthrop quietly developed his art collection in New York, later building it a new home on 81st Street. Despite the extent of the artwork in his possession, he did not display it frequently to others. The collection was also unique because of its diversity. By his death in 1943, he had acquired such pieces as Chinese jades and bronzes, prints, Buddhist sculptures, 19th century French art, Pre-Raphaelite paintings, Mesoamerican sculpture, and Wedgwood and Tassie ceramics. In addition to buying artwork from artists long deceased, he corresponded with and purchased from contemporary artists such as James Abbott McNeill Whistler, John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer, and Paul Manship. His only qualifier for purchase was that the piece had “beauty.”

To develop his collection, Winthrop worked with a series of dealers, art critics, and other notables including Martin Birnbaum, Philip Hofer, Francis Bullard, and Bernard Berenson. Berenson and, later, Birnbaum, travelled around the world to find artwork for Winthrop because he did not travel much himself. The tastes and preferences of these men impacted Winthrop’s acquisitions. For example, Bullard inspired Winthrop’s interest in prints, whereas Birnbaum inspired Winthrop to support contemporary artists and to buy 19th century European paintings. Winthrop was also closely connected to Paul J. Sachs, the associate director of the Fogg Museum. Sachs was one of the few people Winthrop allowed to view collection, and the two had a cordial friendship that lasted over thirty years. On multiple occasions, Sachs brought students enrolled in his popular course "Museum Work and Museum Problems" to New York to visit the collection.

Later in his life, Winthrop looked into finding a proper place to display his collection after his death. First, he consulted with the Metropolitan Museum of Art but no agreement was reached. Sachs had also spoken to Winthrop as early as 1929 about the possibility of his collection coming to Harvard, and soon after parting with The Met, Winthrop started talks with Harvard University, communicating with two presidents, A. Lawrence Lowell and James Bryant Conant. It was important to Winthrop to donate his artwork to a university because he wanted students to have access to beautiful items, a holdover from his studies under Professor Norton. An agreement was reached, and Harvard moved the artwork to the Fogg Museum in 1943 after Winthrop died on January 19, 1943 at 78 years old.

Series and Subseries in the Collection:

  1. Series I: Biographical
  2. ___Subseries A: Class notes
  3. ___Subseries B: Financials
  4. ___Subseries C: Date books, address book, seating charts
  5. ___Subseries D: Materials collected by Winthrop
  6. Series II: Dealers, Galleries, Restorers, and Museums
  7. Series III: Artists
  8. Series IV: Winthrop Collection Index
  9. ___Subseries A: Painting and Sculpture
  10. ___Subseries B: Watercolors and Drawings
  11. ___Subseries C: Minor Arts and Duplicate Cards
  12. Series V: Miscellaneous
  13. Series VI: Winthrop Bequest
  14. ___Subseries A: Legal and installation documentation
  15. ___Subseries B: Harvard’s description of Winthrop’s collection pre-Fogg acquisition
  16. ___Subseries C: Harvard’s description of Winthrop’s collection post-Fogg acquisition
  17. ___Subseries D: Printed material

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers were bequeathed to the Harvard Art Museums by Winthrop upon his death in 1943.

Related Material:

This material complements accessioned works of art gifted by Grenville Winthrop in the Harvard Art Museums collection. Additional materials on Grenville L. Winthrop can be found at the Harvard University Archives.

Box and Folder Locations:

  1. Box 1: Folders 1- 16
  2. Box 2: Folders 17-21, 23-25, 32-40
  3. Box 3: Folders 41-52
  4. Box 4: Folders 53-67
  5. Box 5: Folders 68-102
  6. Box 6: Folders 103-138
  7. Box 7: Folders 139-213
  8. Box 8: Folders 214-270
  9. Box 9: Folders 271-294
  10. Box 10: Folders 295-319
  11. Box 11: Folders 320-334 and 336-341
  12. Box 12: Folders 342-357
  13. Box 13: Folders 26, 27, 28
  14. Box 14: Folders 29 and 30
  15. Box 15: Folders 22 and 31
  16. Box 16: Series IV, subseries A and Series V, subseries B up through “Rowlandson, Thomas – Epsom Races, 1820”
  17. Box 17: Series IV, subseries B after “Rowlandson, Thomas – The Cobbler’s Shop” and series IV, subseries C
  18. Box 18: Folder 335
  1. Birnbaum, Martin, 1878-1970.
  2. Berenson, Bernard, 1865-1959.
  3. French, Daniel Chester, 1850-1931.
  4. Fogg Art Museum.
  5. Harvard Art Museums.
  6. Homer, Winslow, 1836-1910.
  7. Ingres, Jean-Auguste-Dominique, 1780-1867.
  8. Lowell, A. Lawrence (Abbott Lawrence), 1856-1943.
  9. Manship, Paul, 1885-1966.
  10. Norton, Charles Eliot, 1827-1908.
  11. Rathbone, Frederick.
  12. Sachs, Paul J. (Paul Joseph), 1878-1965.
  13. Sargent, John Singer, 1856-1925.
  14. Sterner, Albert.
  15. Tack, Augustus Vincent.
  16. Whistler, James McNeill, 1834-1903.
  17. Winthrop, Grenville Lindall, 1864-1943.
  1. Art--Collectors and collecting.
  2. Art--Private collections.
  3. Harvard University--Art Museums.
  4. Harvard Univeristy--Art Museums--Fogg Art Museum.
  5. Harvard University--Students.
  6. Groton Place (Lenox, Mass.)--Photographs.
  7. New York (N.Y.)
Form/Genre Terms
  1. Account books.
  2. Address books.
  3. Albums.
  4. Appointment books.
  5. Photoprints.
  6. Art dealers.

Processing Information

Processing Information: The collection was partially processed in 1970 by Harvard Art Museums staff, then arranged and rehoused February to April 2012 by Leah Lefkowitz with assistance from Erin Murphy and Susan von Salis. The finding aid was revised and encoded in April 2016 by Michelle Interrante.
Link to catalog
Papers of Grenville L. Winthrop (SC 21), 1885-2000: A Guide
Harvard Art Museums Archives

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 significant papers of individuals and groups associated with the museums' history, as well as correspondence with collectors, gallery owners, museum professionals, and notables throughout the twentieth century. Its holdings also document the formation of the museums' collections and its mission as a teaching institution.

32 Quincy Street
Harvard University
Cambridge MA 02138 USA