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Grace Hartigan Papers

An inventory of her papers at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: JMC/MRR
Date: April 2006

Biographical History

Grace Hartigan (1922-2008) was an important participant in the Abstract Expressionist School of art, which emerged in New York City in the 1950s. Her circle of friends included Jackson Pollock, Larry Rivers, Helen Frankenthaler, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Frank O'Hara, and many other luminaries of the artistic and literary scene. She has had dozens of solo exhibits as well as participation in group shows, and her paintings are held by the most prestigious national and international museums. Since 1965 she has been director of the Hoffberger Graduate School of Painting, Maryland Institute of Art. In that capacity, she has influenced students from all over the world.

Grace Hartigan was born in Newark, New Jersey on March 28, 1922. During a bout of pneumonia at age 6, she taught herself to read and draw, although she did not take formal art lessons until she was nearly twenty. In 1941, she married Robert Jachens and traveled to Los Angeles, where she took her first drawing classes. In 1942, after the birth of her son Jeffrey, she returned East, worked as a draftsman in a war plant, and began studying with Newark, New Jersey painter Isaac Lane Muse. Moving to New York City in 1945, Hartigan became acquainted with several important artists, many of whom remained lifelong friends and artistic allies: Milton Avery, Adolph Gottlieb and Mark Rothko. Hartigan and Robert Jachens divorced in 1947.

In 1948 she was deeply impressed by an exhibit of Jackson Pollock's work and met both Pollock and Willem de Kooning. In 1949 she married fellow painter Harry Jackson, and they spent most of that year painting in Mexico. Hartigan was painting full time and in 1950 returned to New York City; her marriage to Jackson was annulled that same year. After exhibiting in several small avant-garde shows, her work was selected by Clement Greenberg for the Koontz Gallery's "Meyer Schapiro New Talent" Exhibit. The next year Hartigan had her first solo exhibit at Tibor de Nagy Gallery, a new gallery run by John Bernard Myers, and, in 1952, a second solo show there. In 1953, at her third show at Tibor de Nagy, the Museum of Modern Art purchased her painting Persian Jacket. Despite this coup and the critical notice she was receiving, Hartigan continued to struggle financially.

Like other painters of the Abstract Expressionist scene in 1950s New York, Hartigan was closely associated - personally and professionally - with several outstanding poets of the time such as Barbara Guest, James Schuyler and Frank O'Hara. She incorporated the text of O'Hara's poems "Oranges" into a series of twelve paintings, also titled "Oranges," in 1953. Later in her career, she created prints based on work by James Schuyler and Barbara Guest.

In 1959 she married gallery owner Robert Keene, participated in several international exhibitions including "Twelve Americans," "Art in Embassies," and "New American Painting," and was featured in a Life magazine essay. In 1960 she divorced Keene, married Dr. Winston Price, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University and an Abstract Expressionist collector, and moved to the Baltimore, Maryland area, where she lives and works today.

In the early 1960s, she invented a new medium, watercolor collage, using washes to create form, then tearing and reassembling the pieces. In 1965 she approached the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) to explore the possibility of her teaching graduate students there. Almost immediately, her offer was accepted and she continues not only to teach at the Hoffberger School but also to serve as its director.

In 1969 her husband became ill as a result of a self-administered experimental vaccine. For this and other reasons the 1970s proved emotionally trying for Hartigan, as reflected in her work from this period. Dr. Price died in 1981. In the early 1980s, Hartigan focused on heroines as her subject matter. She created a series of Paper Dolls based on 1930s movie stars and did a series of "Great Queens and Empresses" including Theodora, Empress of Byzantium; Elizabeth I of England, Empress Josephine of France; and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Hartigan was the subject of a major monograph, Grace Hartigan: A Painter's World, by art historian Robert Mattison, as well as two important exhibit guides, Grace Hartigan and the Poets, by Terrence Diggory and Painting Art History, by Sharon L. Hirsh.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

Spanning 1942 to 2006, the Grace Hartigan Papers comprises correspondence, writings and memorabilia of the abstract expressionist painter (b. 1922). While documenting Hartigan's career as a painter and as a teacher at Maryland Institute College of Art, the collection also illuminates the New York City literature and art scene, particularly of the 1950s.

Arranged alphabetically, the Correspondence-Subject Files (Boxes 1-31) contains incoming letters and drafts of some outgoing letters, original art from fellow artists and students, and Hartigan's notes on a variety of people and subjects. Correspondents whose letters are of greatest depth and duration include Sally Lindsay Bos, Fay Chandler, Mary Abbott Clyde, Terence Diggory (author of a study on Hartigan and the New York school of poets), Helen Frankenthaler and Robert Motherwell, Gertrude Kasle, Robert Mattison (author of a monograph on Hartigan), Beatrice Perry, Rex Stevens (Hartigan's studio assistant for many years), and Maynatalie Tabak. There is substantial correspondence with the galleries that handled Hartigan's work through the years both in the U.S. (ACA Galleries, Gres Gallery, Grimaldis, Gruenebaum Gallery, Kouros Gallery, Martha Jackson Galleries, Julian Weissman Fine Arts, Tibor de Nagy), and abroad (Galleria Schneider). There is also significant material relating to Hartigan's many years as a teacher at the Hoffberger School of the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, Maryland.

Material on Frank O'Hara is scattered throughout the collection and includes letters (Frank O'Hara, Joseph Le Seuer), monograph notes (Terence Diggory) and lecture notes (Daniel McGuinness).

Hartigan's other correspondents include artists (Lawrence Bahrych, Robert Blackburn, Leonard Bocour, Paul Brach and Miram Schapiro, Salvatore Federico, Tatyana Grosman, Jasper Johns, Ed Kerns, Alfred Leslie, Ryozo Morishita, John Raimondi, Larry Rivers, John Salt, Joan Stolz), poets (Douglas Crase, Barbara Guest, Ted Joans, Roger Kamenetz, Frank O'Hara), and writers (Patricia Albers, Lawrence Campbell, Martha Crow, Waldemar Hansen, Wendy Jeffers, Leslie King-Hammond, John and Marion Somers), as well as composer John Cage and photographer Walter Silver.

Organizational correspondence includes that of educational institutions (Brandeis University, Brooklyn College, Kent State University, Loyola Marymount, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, University of Maryland); museums (Baltimore Museum of Art, Guggenheim Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum, Neuberger Museum, Corcoran Gallery of Art, National Gallery of Art [Washington, D.C.], Smithsonian Museum); galleries (Allene Lapides Gallery, Anita Shapolsky Gallery, The Brata Gallery, David Anderson Gallery); publishers (Ballantine Books, Doubleday, Hudson Hills Press, St. James Press); charitable institutions and foundations (Ford Foundation, Joan Mitchell Foundation, Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation); and various professional or art-related organizations (Artists Equity Association, College Art Association of America, Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art.)

Writings (Box 32) includes autobiographical material (typed journal excerpts, copies of items excerpted from the Correspondence-Subject files, and material Hartigan prepared for publication), addresses and remarks, and other. Memorabilia (Boxes 32-43) includes biographical material (prepared by others), a calendar from 1950 with annotations, recipes, financial material (receipts), lists of Hartigan's paintings prepared for various purposes, medical information, and photographs. Photographs (Boxes 39-43) includes prints, negatives and transparencies of Hartigan's artwork and studio, artwork by others, and personal photographs. Many of the photographs, together with negatives and proof sheets, were taken by noted photographer Walter Silver, including candid shots and portraits of Hartigan's friends and associates in New York City during the 1950s.

Arrangement of the Collection

Correspondence is subdivided into family and general; within that, material is arranged alphabetically. Writings and Memorabilia are arranged alphabetically by title or type.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Related Material

A number of items - consisting mostly of exhibit catalogs - have been removed from the collection and cataloged as part of the Rare Books Collection. Please search our regular online catalog using "hartigan, grace" as the keyword to find these items.

Subject Headings


Bahrych, Lawrence.
Bing, Alexander.
Blackburn, Robert Hamilton, 1920-
Block, Corliss.
Bocour, Leonard, 1910-1993.
Bos, Sally Lindsay.
Buckwalter, Sue.
Budd, David.
Bush, Martin.
Cage, John.
Cheon, Mina.
Clyde, Mary Abbot.
Connor, Colin.
Correa, Federico, 1945-
De Kooning, Elaine.
De Kooning, Willem, 1904-1997.
De Nagy, Tibor.
Dennis, Emily.
Evans, Mary Page.
Folger, Dotty.
Frankenthaler, Helen, 1928-2011.
Grosman, Tatyana, 1904-1982.
Guest, Barbara.
Guggenheim, Peggy, 1898-1979.
Guston, Philip, 1913-1980.
Hansen, Waldemar.
Hartigan, Grace.
Hofmann, Hans, 1880-1966.
Jeffers, Wendy.
Joans, Ted.
Johns, Jasper, 1930-
Leslie, Alfred, 1927-
Lurie, Sheldon.
Maggio, John.
Marino, Louise.
Matter, Mercedes, 1913-2001.
Mattison, Robert Saltonstall.
Michener, James A. (James Albert), 1907-1997.
Mikulski, Barbara.
Mitchell, Joan, 1926-1992.
Mondale, Walter F., 1928-
Morishita, Ryozo.
Motherwell, Robert.
Myers, John Bernard.
O'Hara, Frank, 1926-1966.
Perry, Beatrice.
Perry, Hart Jr.
Porter, Fairfield.
Raimondi, John, 1948-
Rivers, Larry, 1925-2002.
Saler, Karen.
Schapiro, Miriam, 1923-2015.
Schuyler, James.
Schweitzer, Albert (artist)
Silver, Walter.
Soby, James Thrall, 1906-1979.
Spaventa, George, 1918-
Steinberg, Saul.
Stevens, Rex.
Stiles, George.
Stolz, Joan.
Tabak, May Natalie.
Vecchi, Floriano.
Waters, John.
Weissman, Julian.

Corporate Bodies

ACA Galleries.
Baltimore Museum of Art.
Cranbrook Academy of Art.
Grimaldis Gallery.
Gruenebaum Gallery (New York, N.Y.)
Martha Jackson Gallery.
Maryland Institute, College of Art.
Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, N.Y.)
Museum of Modern Art (New York, N.Y.)
Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture.
Tibor de Nagy Gallery.
Yaddo (Artists' colony)


Abstract expressionism -- United States.
Art, American -- 20th century.
Art, American.
Painters -- United States.
Painting, American -- 20th century.
Painting, American.
Women artists -- United States.
Women painters -- United States.

Genres and Forms

Clippings (information artifacts)
Exhibition catalogs.



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Grace Hartigan Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Majority of collection, gift of Grace Hartigan, 1969, 2004; Some correspondence, gift of Fay Chandler, 2007; Some correspondence and photographs, gift of George Silver, 2009.

Table of Contents


Correspondence-subject files