William Sawitzky research notes
Language of Materials
This collection consists of the research notes, manuscripts, typescripts, photostats, photographs, lectures, correspondence, and graphic materials of art historian William Sawitzky (1879-1947). Most of the material dates from l930-1947, and documents Sawitzky's extensive research on early American art and artists, including Ralph Earl, Matthew Pratt, and Gilbert Stuart. Later material is the work of his wife, Susan Clay Sawitzky (1897-1981).
Biographical / Historical
William Sawitzky (1879-1947) was an authority on early American portraiture who served as Advisory Curator of American Art at the New-York Historical Society from 1940 until his death in 1947.
Born in Riga, Russia, Sawitzky studied art history and biology and began his career as an ornithological field worker in the Ural Mountains. He then worked as a journalist in Riga, and came to the United States in 1911 as a special correspondent covering art and literature.
Sawitzky became the art librarian at the Knoedler Gallery in 1913, where he began to take an interest in early American painting. Some of the many artists he studied include Matthew Pratt, Ralph Earl, and Gilbert Stuart.
He left Knoedler in 1920 and spent the next decade doing field work and arranging exhibitions of American paintings at museums, art societies, and clubs in many Midwestern and Southern U.S. cities, and studying paintings in Europe. During this period, Sawitzky edited the four-volume edition of Lawrence Park's work on the painter Gilbert Stuart for the Frick Art Reference Library, published in 1926. He married Susan Clay (1897-1981) in 1927, and she became a partner in his research.
Beginning in 1930, Sawitzky traveled throughout New England, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Louisiana, conducting an extensive survey of thousands of early American paintings and miniatures.
In 1940, under a grant from the Carnegie Corporation, Sawitzky became the Advisory Curator for American Art at the New-York Historical Society and Lecturer on Fine Arts at New York University. During his tenure, he gave a series of lectures based on his extensive research identifying previously little-known early American artists, and on correcting erroneous attributions of artworks.
New York Historical Society Quarterly, v.25, January 1941
New York Historical Society Quarterly, v.31, April 1947
The collection is arranged into 5 series by subject:
Series I: Art Lectures
Series II: Artists
Series III: Correspondence
Series IV: Published Volumes
Series V: Miscellaneous
Scope and Contents
This collection consists of the research notes, manuscripts, typescripts, photostats, photographs, lectures, correspondence, books, and graphic material of American art historian William Sawitzky (1879-1947). Sawitzky's area of expertise was early American art and artists, particularly portraits. His extensive research focused on identifying previously little-known artists, and on correcting erroneous attributions of artworks. Some of the many artists he studied include Matthew Pratt, Ralph Earl, and Gilbert Stuart. Material in this collection dated after 1947 is the work of William Sawitzky's wife, Susan Clay Sawitzky (1897-1981).
Of particular interest are the transcripts of a series of lectures Sawitzky gave while serving as Advisory Curator of American Art at the New-York Historical Society. Organized in conjuction with New York University between 1940-1942, the lectures were the products of Sawitsky's decades of fieldwork and research in early American art. The transcripts are based on notes taken by Susan Clay Sawitzky at these lectures.
Open to qualified researchers. Materials are stored offsite and advance notice is required for use.
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The collection should be cited as: William Sawitzky Research Notes, MS 0540, New-York Historical Society.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Gift, unknown donor, possibly Susan Clay Sawitzky, circa 1981.
About this Guide
Marybeth Kavanagh, 2021.