Julien Levy Gallery records
Held at: Philadelphia Museum of Art Archives [Contact Us]Box 7646, Philadelphia, PA, 19101-7646
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Archives. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Julien Levy (1906-1981) was a pioneering New York art dealer of the 1930s and 1940s. He was introduced to the art world in Paris by Marcel Duchamp, whom he had met in New York in 1926. In Paris he met photographers and artists, including Man Ray, Berenice Abbot, and Joella Haweis, daughter of Dadaist muse Mina Loy, who became his wife. Upon his return to the United States, Levy worked briefly at the Weyhe Gallery before opening the Julien Levy Gallery at 602 Madison Avenue. In 1932, Levy mounted “Surrealisme,” which introduced the Surrealist art movement to New York.
Levy was born in 1906 in New York. He attended Harvard University, where he studied museum administration as a student of Paul Sachs. He did not complete his course of study, however, deciding instead to travel to France in 1927. There he met and befriended artists Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp and others, and was introduced to the work of French photographer Eugene Atget. It Atget’s photographs, that inspired him to become an art dealer. While in France, he also met his wife, Joella Haweis, and her mother, Mina Loy, who would eventually serve as his gallery representative in Paris.
When Levy returned to New York, he worked briefly in the print room of the Weyhe Gallery, as Carl Zigrosser’s assistant. At this time, he also became partial owner of the Atget photograph archive, which had been rescued by photographer Berenice Abbott from Atget’s studio just after his death in 1927. Levy mounted an exhibition of Atget photographs at Weyhe, and it was after this he decided to open his own gallery. Using money he inherited from his mother, Levy open his gallery in 1931. In 1937, he moved the gallery to 15 East 57th Street, and in 1943 he relocated again to 42 East 57th, where the gallery remained until it closed in 1949.
In the beginning, Levy exhibited and sold the work of American and European photographers, including Atget, Stieglitz, Nadar and Henri Cartier-Bresson, promoting photography as an art form, as Alfred Stieglitz had done. In 1932, Levy held the first Surrealism show in New York, displaying works from a variety of mediums, including photography, painting, sculpture, collage and books. This show introduced major artists of the Surrealist movement, most notably Salvador Dali, whose painting “The Persistence of Memory” Levy had purchased the previous year. In addition to promoting Dali’s work, Levy was the first New York dealer to exhibit the works of many important Surrealist-influenced artists, including Joseph Cornell, Frida Kahlo and Arshile Gorky.
After closing his gallery in 1949, Levy turned to teaching. He held teaching positions at Sarah Lawrence College and SUNY Purchase. He also wrote several books: Surrealism, Eugene Berman, Arshile Gorky, and Memoir of an Art Gallery.
Schaffner, Ingrid and Lisa Jacobs, editors. Julien Levy: Portrait of an Art Gallery. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1998.
Parker, Judith. “Art to me is almost religion.” Harvard Magazine, 1979.
PACSCL survey record.
This collection documents the career of prominent art gallery owner Julien Levy. The records date from 1857 to 1983 and include correspondence, exhibit announcements and invitations, scrapbooks, gallery financial ledgers, audio-visual materials, and personal papers such as letters, diaries, appointment books and calendars. The material in this collection reflects the course of Levy’s life, beginning with childhood letters and elementary school papers, and ending with Levy’s obituary and memorials. The records follow Levy, fresh from Paris, as he opens his gallery in New York and quickly becomes one of the most well-known and respected art dealers in the United States. This star-studded collection features correspondence with some of the most celebrated artists of the Surrealist and other art movements, including Salvador Dali, Arshile Gorky, Frida Kahlo, Man Ray, and Marcel Duchamp. The bulk of material dates from 1933 to 1949, and the 1970s. Researchers should note that the collection contains few records from the 1950s and early 1960s. The collection is divided into seven series: “I. Correspondence,” “II. Subject files,” “III. Exhibition announcements and ephemera,” “IV. Financial records,” “V. Scrapbooks,” “VI. Diaries and calendars,” and “VII. Audio/Visual Materials.”
The “I. Correspondence” series contains letters, postcards, and notes that document Julien Levy’s career as gallery owner and art dealer, as well as his relationships with business associates, patrons, artists, family, and friends. The series is further divided into two subseries: “a. General correspondence” and “b. Personal correspondence.” Researchers should note that personal correspondence can also be found interspersed with the general correspondence. Levy’s general and personal correspondence were initially organized by Marie Difilippantonio, Levy’s assistant (check). This order has been maintained, however, it is important for researchers to be aware that the order is not strictly alphabetical. Correspondents who are represented by a single letter are frequently filed under the first two letters of their last name. For example, Annie W. Allen is filed under “Al’s: Allen“ which is filed after “Alvarez.” Researchers should therefore perform a key word search in order to ensure that the correspondent for whom they are looking is located. Furthermore, as a result of Difilippantonio's excellent description, the content of these letters are described to a limited degree. A keyword search will provide access not only to letters written to and from the artist, but also to letters in which the artist was discussed.
Subseries “b. Personal correspondence,” contains correspondence between Julien Levy and various family members, including his parents, Isabelle Isaacs Levy and Edgar A. Levy, and his sons, Jerrold, Javan and Jonathan. The correspondence in this subseries documents the passionate and volatile relationships with each of Levy’s three wives: Joella Lloyd Levy, Muriel Streeter Levy, and Jean Farley Levy. The records related to Levy’s father, Edgar A. Levy, offer insight into Levy’s tumultuous early years, including his leaving Harvard University, his early travels to Paris, and his first two marriages (and subsequent divorces). The subseries also contains a substantial amount of correspondence with Joella Levy’s mother, artist and writer Mina Loy, with whom Levy developed a close professional and personal relationship. The material dates from 1857 to 1981 and is arranged alphabetically by correspondent’s last name. Researchers are advised to perform a key word search in order to ensure that the correspondent/artist for whom they are looking is located.
Series “IV. Financial records,” consists of ledger books maintained by Julien Levy, personally, as well as for the Julien Levy Gallery. These books contain information on artwork owned by Levy, and include the date of sale and sale price of the pieces. Some of the books also reflect the financial interaction between Levy and his artists. The ledger books date from circa 1925 to 1978 and are listed chronologically.
The “V. Scrapbooks” series includes scrapbooks containing memorabilia from Levy’s career as a gallery owner and art dealer. The books include newspaper articles about the Gallery and the artists Levy represented, as well as exhibit announcements and catalogs, similar to materials found in series “III. Exhibition announcements and ephemera.” The materials date from circa 1925 to 1941 and are arranged alphabetically by scrapbook type and then chronologically.
The “VI. Diaries and Calendars” series contains Julien Levy and Jean Farley Levy’s appointment books and calendars. The bulk of materials dates from the 1970s, and continues beyond Julien’s death in 1981. There are a few diaries that date from the late 1940s and 1950s that were shared by Julien and Jean. It is likely, considering some of the personal notations inside, that Julien consulted these diaries as he wrote his memoirs. The appointment books and calendars provide insight into the later years of Levy’s life. The materials are arranged chronologically and date from 1948 to 1981.
Series “VII. Audio / visual materials” contains some undated VHS tapes, compact discs, and CD-ROMs of digitized materials related to Julien Levy, possibly including home video of Levy and his gallery events, interviews conducted about Levy and digital reproductions of exhibition announcements. Most of the digitization of the materials seems to have been done by the Julien Levy Foundation, before the records were transferred to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The processors of this collection did not review the materials; researchers should consult the Philadelphia Museum of Art Archives concerning accessibility of these materials.
Gift of the Jean and Julien Levy Foundation for the Arts, Inc., June 23, 2008
The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
This collection was minimally processed in 2009-2011, as part of an experimental project conducted under the auspices of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries to help eliminate processing backlog in Philadelphia repositories. A minimally processed collection is one processed at a less intensive rate than traditionally thought necessary to make a collection ready for use by researchers. When citing sources from this collection, researchers are advised to defer to folder titles provided in the finding aid rather than those provided on the physical folder.
Employing processing strategies outlined in Mark Greene's and Dennis Meissner's 2005 article, More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Processing Approaches to Deal With Late 20th-Century Collections, the project team tested the limits of minimal processing on collections of all types and ages, in 23 Philadelphia area repositories. A primary goal of the project, the team processed at an average rate of 2-3 hours per linear foot of records, a fraction of the time ordinarily reserved for the arrangement and description of collections. Among other time saving strategies, the project team did not extensively review the content of the collections, replace acidic folders or complete any preservation work.
- Dalí, Salvador, 1904-1989
- Duchamp, Marcel, 1887-1968
- Ernst, Max, 1891-1976
- Kahlo, Frida
- Loy, Mina
- Man Ray, 1890-1976
- Philadelphia Museum of Art Archives
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Christiana Dobrzynski Grippe and Jenna Marrone
- The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use.
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