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COLLECTION Identifier: HC 20

Teaching and Research Materials Collection, 1891-1968


The papers in this collection document Edward Waldo Forbes’s career as a professor of Fine Arts, Director of the Fogg Museum, and his research interests in the technical study of works of art. The bulk of the collection dates from 1909 to 1940. The papers consist of correspondence, lecture notes and outlines, assignment descriptions, visual materials for lectures, student work, recipes, technical notes, clippings, photographs, letters of introduction, paint samples, lists, invoices, and a few sketches and rubbings.


  • 1891-1968


Conditions on Access


Conditions on Use

Copyright: The President and Fellows of Harvard College hold any copyright in the Teaching and Research Materials Collection (HC 20). Copyright in some papers in the collection may be held by their authors' heirs or assigns. Researchers must obtain the written permission of the holder(s) of copyright the Harvard Art Museum Archives before publishing any material in the collection.

Copying: Papers may be occupied in accordance with the Harvard Art Museum Archives’ usual procedures.


22.6 linear feet (51 Hollinger boxes, 4 lantern slide boxes, 1 oversize folder)
The papers in this collection document Edward Waldo Forbes’s career as a professor of Fine Arts, Director of the Fogg Museum, and his research interests in the technical study of works of art. The papers date from 1891 to 1968, with the bulk spanning the years of 1909-1940. The papers consist of correspondence, lecture notes and outlines, assignment descriptions, visual materials for lectures, student work, recipes, technical notes, clippings, photographs, letters of introduction, paint samples, lists, invoices, and a few sketches and rubbings. Courses represented in this collection include “Florentine Painting in the 15th Century” (Fine Arts 15b, 19b, 20b), “Methods and Processes of Italian Painting” (Fine Arts 5g, 15b2), “The Fine Arts in Europe” (Fine Arts 20m) and “History of Italian Art” (Fine Arts 20f). It is possible that material relating to others will be found in this collection, but the majority of the materials will likely relate to the aforementioned three classes. Of particular note is Forbes’s “Methods and Processes of Italian Painting,” affectionately nicknamed the “Egg and Plaster” course. This course promoted hands-on experience and required students to look at original paintings and reproduce the work using the old masters’ materials and methods. To that end, the course included a laboratory component in which students would demonstrate how old masters made tempera paintings, frescoes, drawings, and then oil paintings in the style of the Venetian school.

The materials in this collection are the result of three separate transfers of smaller collections that are closely related and have therefore been combined in this finding aid. These three collections are the Forbes Teaching Materials, Forbes Materials from the Conservation Department, and personnel records from the Conservation Department. Most of the series and subseries titles and arrangement are a reflection of the contents of a January 15, 1927 letter Forbes wrote to A. Everett “Chick” Austin, his former graduate student assistant and director of the Wadsworth Athenaeum, in which he outlined the organization of his teaching files (a copy of the letter is included in folder 1601). The processing archivist has adhered to Forbes’s organizational plan except when necessary to facilitate discovery. Please note this is an open collection which may be added to as other relevant materials are discovered or accessioned.

The materials are divided into three series that are further divided into a number of subseries. Series I is Notes on Conversations with Various Critics, Restorers and Painters. Series II is Course Materials, comprising of materials relating to Forbes’s numerous courses. This series is divided into four sub-series: Lecture Materials, Visual Materials, Lectures with Photographs, and Student Files. Series III is Technical Notes, dealing with Forbes’s notes and collected materials relating to the technical aspect of painting. This series is divided into five sub-series: Notes on Technique,, Artist Notes, Materials Used / Receipts [Recipes] Dealing with Various Processes, Pigments, and Descriptions of Experiments.


Edward Waldo Forbes was born July 16, 1873 on Naushon Island, southwest of Cape Cod. He was the son of William Hathaway Forbes, founder and first president of the American Bell Telephone Company, and Edith Emerson Forbes, daughter of poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. Forbes studied at Milton Academy before entering Harvard University, where he received an A.B. in 1895. During his studies at Harvard, Forbes' interest in the fine arts was encouraged by Professor Charles Eliot Norton. In 1898, Forbes traveled to Europe and began an earnest study of art and art history, with a focus on Italian primitive paintings. During these travels he also began to acquire early Italian paintings. Forbes studied English Literature at Oxford University from 1900 to 1902.

Upon his return to Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1902, Forbes formed the Harvard Riverside Associates, a group that purchased land between Harvard Yard and the Charles River which would later become part of Harvard's campus. Forbes continued to cultivate his interest in art and became a trustee of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 1903 and of the Fogg Museum in 1904. He also taught at the Middlesex School in Concord, Massachusetts for one term in 1904, but was obliged to leave the position due to poor health. In 1907, he married Margaret Laighton, an accomplished gardener and watercolorist. They were married until her death in 1966 and raised five children at Gerry's Landing, the Forbes' Cambridge home.

In 1907 Forbes taught his first course, on Florentine painting, at Harvard. He became Lecturer in Fine Arts in 1909, the year he became director of the Fogg Museum. Forbes continued to teach throughout his years as director and was named Martin A. Ryerson Lecturer in Fine Arts in 1935. He was most well-known for his "Egg and Plaster" course, entitled Methods and Processes of Italian Painting, in which students learned about artists' materials and techniques by painting frescoes and using egg yolks to bind tempera to panels.

Forbes assumed the directorship of the Fogg Museum in 1909, after its first director, Charles Herbert Moore, retired At that time, the museum's annual income was minimal, its collections limited, and its architectural spaces not conducive to display and study. Forbes described the collections as being installed, "in galleries where you could not see, adjacent to a lecture hall in which you could not hear." He immediately began efforts to improve the physical spaces of the museum, to garner financial support for its operation and endowment, and to build and strengthen its collections Forbes was tremendously successful in these endeavors; by the time he retired from the directorship in 1944 the Fogg collection had become extensive and world-renowned, the museum was in a new building (opened in 1927) vastly more suited to its purposes, and the museum's financial situation was decidedly more stable.

Forbes' accomplishments at the Fogg were inextricably connected to those of Paul J. Sachs, whom Forbes persuaded to join the Fogg Museum as assistant director in 1915. Under Forbes and Sachs' direction for almost thirty years, the Fogg Museum built a distinguished teaching collection, sponsored a range of archaeological expeditions, and trained curators and directors for many American museums. Both men retired in 1944.

The technical study of works of art was one of Forbes' most passionate interests. He founded the Center for Conservation and Technical Studies (now named the Straus Center for Conservation) at the Fogg in 1928; it was the first fine arts conservation treatment, research, and training facility in the United States. Forbes pioneered the use of x-rays to analyze the technique and authenticity of paintings, to detect repainting, and to further study of attributions. He was also instrumental in the publication and success of Technical Studies in the Field of the Fine Arts, which was published from 1932 to 1942. In recognition of his accomplishments, Forbes was named the first honorary fellow of the Institute of Conservation on his 85th birthday, in 1958. At that time the Institute (now formally called the International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works) also established an Edward Waldo Forbes prize in his honor.

Forbes received many awards and distinctions throughout his career and was also active on various boards and committees. He received two honorary degrees from Harvard: an A.M. in 1921 and a Doctor of Arts in 1942. He was also honored with an LL.D. from the University of Pittsburgh in 1927. Forbes served in the American Red Cross in Italy during the first World War, and he was named Chevalier by the French Legion of Honor in 1937. He was a trustee of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts for sixty-three years (beginning in 1903) and also a trustee of the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford, Connecticut. Forbes was also on the administrative committee of the Dumbarton Oaks Collection and Research Library of Byzantine Studies in Washington, D.C. from 1941 to 1963. In addition, he was a trustee of the Public Reservations of Massachusetts for more than sixty years and a founding member and president of the American Research Center in Egypt from 1948 to 1962.

Throughout his life, Forbes was an avid outdoorsman; he loved to sail, hike, ride and swim, and he was active in the yearly sheeping on Forbes family properties at Nashawena and Naushon Islands in Massachusetts. He was an enthusiastic painter, teased for lugging excessive equipment on even the smallest painting outing, and also loved music and singing. Forbes' kindness, hospitality and generosity were legendary.

Edward Forbes died in Belmont, Massachusetts on March 11, 1969.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Teaching and Research Materials Collection (HC 20) was left at the Fogg Museum by former director Edward Waldo Forbes.

Related Material:

There are additional papers of Edward Waldo Forbes and the Forbes family in the Harvard University Archives and in Houghton Library. There are also papers related to the Sauvegarde de l'Art Français in the Harvard Art Museum Archives. The Harvard Art Museums Archives holds the Edward Waldo Forbes Papers, 1867-2005.

Box and Folder Locations

  1. Box 1: 1-37
  2. Box 2: 38-76
  3. Box 3: 77-85
  4. Box 4: 86-103
  5. Box 5: 104-126
  6. Box 6: 127-131
  7. Box 7: 132-142
  8. Box 8: 143-152
  9. Box 9: 153-167
  10. Box 10: 168-179
  11. Box 11: 180-189
  12. Box 12: 190-202
  13. Box 13: 203-247
  14. Box 14: 248-323
  15. Box 15: 324-415
  16. Box 16: 416-423;428-441
  17. Box 17: 442-473
  18. Box 18: 474-486
  19. Box 19: 487-495
  20. Box 20: 496-502
  21. Box 21: 503-575
  22. Box 22: 576-616
  23. Box 23: 617-677
  24. Box 24: 678-727
  25. Box 25: 728-751
  26. Box 26: 752-764
  27. Box 27: 765-819
  28. Box 28: 820-870
  29. Box 29: 871-925
  30. Box 30: 926-975
  31. Box 31: 976-1017
  32. Box 32: 1018-1065
  33. Box 33: 1066-1100
  34. Box 34: 1101-1145
  35. Box 35: 1146-1183
  36. Box 36: 1184-1234
  37. Box 37: 1235-1290
  38. Box 38: 1291-1346
  39. Box 39: 1347-1402
  40. Box 40: 1403-1445
  41. Box 41: 1446-1496
  42. Box 42: 1497-1547
  43. Box 43: 1548-1594
  44. Box 44: 1595-1621
  45. Box 45: 1622-1645
  46. Box 46: 1646-1683
  47. Box 47: 1684-1702
  48. Box 48: 1703-1745
  49. Box 49: 1746-1802
  50. Box 50: 1803-1836
  51. Box 51: 1837-1856
  52. Box 52: 424 [lantern slides]
  53. Box 53: 425 [lantern slides]
  54. Box 54: 426 [lantern slides]
  55. Box 55: 427 [lantern slides]

Processing Information

The collection was processed in summer 2015 by Mary Guinan under the supervision of Megan Schwenke. Additional processing was done by Michelle Interrante. The collection was rehoused by Lillian McCabe, Casper Dehnavi, and Adam Sella.
Teaching and Research Materials Collection, 1891-1968: A Guide
Harvard Art Museums Archives, Harvard Art Museums, Harvard University

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.

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