Scope and Content Note


The Arensberg Archives contain correspondence, ephemera, clippings, writings, art collection and personal records, and photographs created and collected by Walter and Louise Arensberg, as well as some material created on the couple's behalf by their secretary and the staff of the Francis Bacon Foundation. Through letters with contemporary artists, art dealers, museums, galleries, and publishers emerges a vivid picture of how the Arensbergs built and maintained one of the most important collections of Modern and pre-Columbian art in the 20th century, particularly from the early 1930's to the early 1950's. Magazine and newspaper clippings; exhibition announcements, invitations, and catalogs; loan forms with various museums and galleries; tax and financial records; a card catalog; and photographs further illustrate how the Arensbergs acquired, cataloged, loaned, conserved, and administered their art collection. Countless letters are preserved from admirers wishing to visit the Arensbergs' Hollywood, California home to view the art collection. In more cases than not, a response from Walter Arensberg granting permission is also preserved. Also included is a significant amount of legal and financial material documenting the Arensbergs' negotiations with the Francis Bacon Foundation, the University of California at Los Angeles, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, as well as several other institutions to find a suitable permanent home for the art collection. Walter Arensberg took a proactive role in promoting modern art in California, as demonstrated by records related to his role in the founding and administration of the short-lived Modern Institute of Art in Beverly Hills.

The material also offers a picture, albeit somewhat limited, of Walter Arensberg's professional interests in avant-garde poetry, the Bacon-Shakespeare controversy, and cryptography. The collection includes manuscripts for several experimental, unpublished poems and essays written by Walter Arensberg probably between 1915-1921, many in collaboration with Marcel Duchamp. At least one of these incorporates titles from Duchamp's readymades. Correspondence with John Covert, Walter's cousin, document his interest in cryptography, and Walter discusses his Baconian research and his research institute, the Francis Bacon Foundation, in several letters.

A significant amount of correspondence with economist John Nef, artists Marcel Duchamp and Charles Sheeler, and art dealer and Armory Show organizer Walter Pach, for example, demonstrate the variety of intellectuals with whom the Arensbergs' maintained close and long-term friendships. Countless other notable figures of the 20th century also crossed the Arensbergs' paths, ranging from literary figures, such as Arthur Cravan, to actors, such as Vincent Price, and these encounters are recorded in the Arensbergs' correspondence and photographs. The collection also includes a significant amount of correspondence with and experimental poetry of Elmer Ernest Southard, an important psychiatrist and neuropathologist, who was Walter's close friend and classmate from Harvard University. Walter received this material upon Southard's death in 1920, and he kept it for the rest of his life.