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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Separated Material
  • Biographical/Historical Note
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Wim Swaan photograph collection
    Date (inclusive): 1951-1995
    Collection number: 96.P.21
    Creator: Swaan, Wim
    Extent: 60 linear ft. (150 boxes)
    Repository: Getty Research Institute
    Special Collections and Visual Resources
    Research Library
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles, CA 90049-1688
    Abstract: A comprehensive collection of ca. 48,000 photographic prints, transparencies, and negatives in black and white and color by a self-taught photographer and practicing architect who traveled widely, documenting the art, architecture, and landscape of ancient and disappearing cultures in the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Latin America, and the Western United States. Also included are some letters with publishers, agents, colleagues, and friends, sales accounts, a manuscript, some research notes, and a copy of his master's thesis.
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    Language: Collection material in English

    Administrative Information


    Open for use by qualified researchers.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred Citation

    Wim Swaan photograph collection, 1951-1995, Research Library, The Getty Research Institute, Accession no. 96.P.21.

    Acquisition Information

    Gift of the Willem A. Swaan Estate, received 1996. One binder of images of Latin American sites received in 1999. One box of images of Latin American sites received in 2000.

    Processing History

    Collection received in 1996 was processed by Lynda Bunting in 1998. Two boxes of material received in 1999 and 2000 have been added to the collection (Series II, boxes 149, 150) but are unprocessed at this date.

    Separated Material

    Swaan, Wim. Lost cities of Asia: Ceylon, Burma, Cambodia. London: Elek, 1966. Hambly, Gavin. Cities of Mughul India: Delhi, Agra, Fatehpur Sikri. London: Elek, 1968. Swaan, Wim. The late middle ages. London: Elek, 1977 (2 copies). Anderson, William. Castles of Europe: from Charlemagne to the Renaissance . London: Elek, 1970. Pollitt, J.J. Art in the Hellenistic age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986. Brooke, Christopher and Roger Highfield. Oxford & Cambridge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988. Tucci, Giuseppe. Tibet. London: Elek, 1967. Nims, C.F. Thebes of the Pharaohs. London: Elek, 1965.

    Biographical/Historical Note

    1927: Born Willem Albertus Swaan September 6 in South Africa.
    1950: Bachelor of Architecture, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.
    1950-1951: Travelled in Europe and worked for Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew in London on the University of Ibadan, Nigeria.
    1952-1960: Returned to South Africa. Worked for Andrews and Niegeman in Cape Town. Moved to H. H. Le Roith and Partners, Johannesburg, first as an employee, later as partner in charge of design. Projects: apartment buildings, schools, industrial and commercial buildings.
    1958: Master of Architecture, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. Thesis: "Low-cost housing: a survey of economic and sub-economic housing for the lower-income groups with special reference to housing European families with children in South Africa," written while Swaan worked as a full-time architect for Le Roith and Partners. Later attended the Yale School of Organization and Management and the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.
    1959-1960: Studied Zen Buddhism and researched Japanese architecture and landscape design at Chotokuin Zen Temple, Kyoto.
    1960: Emigrated to London.
    1963: Moved to the United States.
    1963-1966: Joined Perkins and Will Architects, New York.
    1966: Became a United States citizen.
    1966-1968: Sabbatical in Europe.
    1971-1972: Eighteen month tour of Europe.
    1972-1981: Partner at Perkins and Will.
    1975-1981: Vice President at Perkins and Will.
    1981: Director of Health Facilities Planning in Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum's New York office. Oversaw the new Veterans Administration Hospital, Manhattan, addition, and other large health facilities located throughout the United States.
    1990: Received a special citation from the American Institute of Architects for distinguished achievement as a historian and photographer of the art and architecture created by diverse cultures throughout the world.
    1994: Retired as Director of Design at Architecture for Health, Science and Commerce, Tarrytown, NY.
    1995: Died October 1 of pulmonary fibrosis.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    A comprehensive collection of photographs, ca. 34,453 black and white negatives, contact prints and enlargements and ca. 13,453 color transparencies and prints, by a self-taught photographer and practicing architect who traveled widely and published many large-format books devoted to the art and architecture of ancient and disappearing cultures. Included are some letters with publishers, agents, colleagues and friends, sales statements, his notes, a manuscript, and a copy of his master's thesis.
    Most images, taken in situ between 1951-1995, reflect Swaan's interest in facades, architectural details and decoration. Strong pictorial subjects include Gothic, Medieval, Baroque and Renaissance Europe, Islamic Spain and Morocco, Turkey, Egypt and Iran, Ancient Egypt and Greece, Asia, including India, Pakistan, Tibet, Nepal, Japan, Cambodia and Sri Lanka, Pre-Columbian and Colonial Latin America, and the landscape of the American West.


    The collection is arranged in three series: Series I. Book projects, 1963-1995 (boxes 1-55, 67-111, 148**); Series II. Other photographs, 1951-1995 (boxes 56-61, 112-150); Series III. Papers, 1958-1995 (boxes 62-66).

    Indexing Terms


    Acropolis (Athens, Greece)
    Architecture—Pictorial works
    Architecture—Latin America
    Architecture—Middle East
    Architecture, Baroque
    Architecture, Gothic—Europe
    Architecture, Hellenistic
    Architecture, Medieval
    Architecture, Rococo
    Art, Flemish
    Art, Hellenistic
    Art, Medieval
    Decoration and ornament, Architectural
    Decoration and ornament, Islamic
    Extinct cities—Mexico
    Extinct cities—Asia, Southeastern
    Hundred Years War, 1339-1453
    Landscape photography—West (U.S.)
    Medici, House of


    Acropolis (Athens, Greece)
    Copán Site (Honduras)
    Europe—Pictorial works
    Usfahan (Iran)
    Istanbul (Turkey)—Antiquities
    Japan—Social life and customs
    Machu Picchu Site (Peru)
    Mecca (Saudi Arabia)
    Mogul Empire
    Persepolis (Iran)—Antiquities
    San Agustín (Huila, Columbia)—Antiquities
    South Africa—Pictorial works
    Susa (Extinct city)—Antiquities
    Thebes (Egypt : Extinct city)
    Tibet (China)—Antiquities
    Tikal Site (Guatamala)
    Tiwanaku Site (Bolivia)
    University of Cambridge—Pictorial works
    University of Oxford—Pictorial works

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Black-and-white prints (photographs)
    Color slides
    Color transparencies
    Contact prints
    Diffusion transfer prints
    Photographs, Original


    Castles of Europe : from Charlemagne to the Renaissance Medici : a great Florentine family Isfahan, pearl of Persia Monastic world Oxford and Cambridge Age of Plantagenet and Valois : the struggle for supremacy, 1328-1498 Flemish cities; their history and art : Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp, Brussels Cities of Mughul India : Delhi, Agra and Fatehpur Sikri Morocco : Marrakesh, Fez, Rabat Thebes of the Pharaohs : pattern for every city Constantinople from Byzantium to Istanbul Moorish Spain : Cordoba, Seville, Granada Gothic cathedral Japanese lantern Lost cities of Asia : Ceylon, Pagan, Angkor Late Middle Ages : art and architecture from 1350 to the advent of the Renaissance Tibet : land of snows Baroque and Rococo architecture and decoration