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Finding aid for the William and Noma Copley foundation and collection records, 1954-1980
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Collection Details
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biographical/Historical Note
  • Administrative Information
  • Separated Material
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: William and Noma Copley foundation and collection records
    Date (inclusive): 1954-1980
    Number: 880403
    Creator/Collector: William and Noma Copley Foundation
    Physical Description: 4.5 linear feet (10 boxes)
    The Getty Research Institute
    Special Collections
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles, California, 90049-1688
    (310) 440-7390
    Abstract: Records document the William and Noma Copley Foundation's grant program for composers and artists, 1954-1966. Richard Hamilton's correspondence, 1960-1966, largely concerns the Foundation's monograph series, which he edited. Other papers, including correspondence with artists, files regarding exhibitions and insurance, and photographs, document the Copleys' personal art collection, known for its large number of Surrealist works. Files dated after 1966 primarily contain Noma Copley's correspondence with artists.
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    Language: Collection material is in English

    Biographical/Historical Note

    Copley Foundation
    The William and Noma Copley Foundation was incorporated in Chicago as a non-profit foundation in 1954. Its aim was to aid and encourage creative individuals in the fields of painting, sculpture and music composition. Grants were awarded by a board of directors from nominations made by the advisers. The Foundation's advisers were Jean Arp, Alfred Barr, Jr., Roberto Matta Echaurren, Max Ernst, Julien Levy, William Lieberman, Man Ray, Sir Roland Penrose and Sir Herbert Read. The officers and directors were William Copley, Noma Copley, Marcel Duchamp, Barnet Hodes (also called Barney), Eleanor Hodes and Darius Milhaud. Music and art award responsibilities were divided between husband and wife. Noma Copley collaborated with Milhaud, whose music recommendations were nearly all accepted. William Copley generally made the final decisions on the visual art grants, based on the recommendations of his artist friends. In 1966 William Copley became dissatisfied with his Foundation association, preferring to be known as a painter rather than a philanthropist.
    The Foundation published a series of monographs from 1960-1966 to highlight those artists who received awards. The British Pop artist Richard Hamilton was chosen as editor, not only for his well-known talents in layout and design, but also, as one of Duchamp's protegées, for the respect given him by the international art community. A total of 10 monographs were published on Hans Bellmer, Richard Lindner, Bernard Pfriem, René Magritte, Thomas Albert Sills, Eduardo Paolozzi, James Metcalf, Serge Charchoune, Jacques Hérold and Diter Rot [i.e., Dieter Roth]. The later books, especially Dieter Rot's, explored the medium of the artist book, which Hamilton found very exciting. He suggested that the Foundation continue in this direction and consider publishing books by non-awardees (such as Emmett Williams). However, William Copley believed the series was straying from the Foundation's initial intentions, which could jeopardize the Foundation's non-profit tax status.
    Copley Collection
    The Copleys assembled an important private collection of Surrealist art. Hans Bellmer, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, René Magritte and Man Ray were represented in depth. Important works in the collection were acquired abroad and imported into France. Approximately half of the collection was purchased in France. The collection included Magritte's "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" and "Chambre d'Ecoute," Ernst's "Le Surréalisme et la Peinture," Man Ray's "A l'Heure de l'Observatoire: les Amoureux" and Richard Hamilton's "$he". From 1964 to 1966, Marcia Tucker worked as collection curator, overseeing exhibition loans and the care and maintenance of the collection. Most of the Copley collection was sold at auction (Sotheby's Nov. 5, 1979). Some of the works were placed on long-term loan or donated to museums.
    William Copley
    1919 William Nelson Copley born in New York. Adopted by newspaper publisher Colonel Ira C. Copley, who owned a string of newspapers throughout Chicago and Southern California.
    1932-1936 Studied at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts.
    1936-1938 Studied at Yale University.
    1942-1946 U.S. Army campaigns throughout Italy and North Africa.
    1946 Married Doris Wead, with whom he had two children.
    1947-1948 Director of Copley Galleries in Beverly Hills, Calif. in partnership with his brother-in-law John Ployardt. Exhibited Magritte, Cornell, Matta, Tanguy, Man Ray, Ernst.
    1947 Began painting in a pseudo-naif style that prefigured certain aspects of Pop Art.
    1951-1964 Lived and worked in Paris.
    1954 Organized and directed non-profit Copley Foundation until ca. 1966.
      Married Noma Ratner.
    1955 Filed a lawsuit in Chicago that demanded liquidation of the Copley estate, involving many millions of dollars.
    1959 Began receiving payment for Copley Press shares sold to his brother, according to their settlement.
    1961 IRS questioned his studio tax deductions and his status as a serious artist.
    1964-1979 Lived and worked in New York.
    1968 Second marriage to Noma ended. Organized the publication SMS (Shit Must Stop).
    1972 Married Stella Yang.
    1979 Sold the majority of Surrealist works from the collection (Sotheby's Nov. 5).
    1980-1991 Lived and worked in Roxbury, Connecticut.
    1992- Lived and worked in Key West, Florida.
    1993 Sold contemporary works from the collection (Christie's Nov. 8).

    Administrative Information


    Open for use by qualified researchers.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred Citation

    William and Norma Copley foundation and collection records, 1954-1980, Research Library, The Getty Research Institute, Accession no. 880403

    Acquisition Information

    The Research Library acquired the bulk of the archive in 1988. Additional material was acquired in 1995, 1996, and 1998.

    Processing History

    Monika Wiessmeyer unpacked the archive in 1988. Lynda Bunting processed and cataloged the collection June-July, 1995. The Richard Hamilton correspondence (former accn. no. 920052) was moved to the William and Noma Copley Foundation and Collection Records at this time. Bunting revised the finding aid in August 1997 to add a Hans Bellmer document (960054) and in January 1998, to add ca. 40 letters and postcards from other two separate acquisitions (960074, 980002).

    Separated Material

    Vivaldi, Cesare. Pietro Cascella. Milan: Edizioni del milione, ca. 1962.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The William and Noma Copley Foundation and Collection Records document the couple's philanthropic and collecting activities, which along with their personal relationships with Surrealist artists would profoundly affect the exhibition and evaluation of the Surrealist movement in the United States. The archive dates from 1954-1980, the bulk dating from 1954-1966, when the Copleys directed the Foundation. Correspondence after 1966 is primarily from Noma Copley's personal files.
    The collection contains correspondence with the Foundation's advisors, and with composers and artists who were awarded grants, in effect demonstrating the Foundation's award process. Letters also were exchanged with artist friends about personal matters and the Copley art collection. Additionally, there is personal and business correspondence with Richard Hamilton from the time when he was editor of the Copley Foundation's monograph series. One series contains personal correspondence, with many drawings and handmade cards, collected by Noma Copley. There is much material, including correspondence and photographs of art works, relating specifically to the Copley collection, covering topics such as exhibition loans, appraisals, conservation of the collection, financial and insurance documents.

    Arrangement note

    The archive is arranged in 5 series: Series I. Foundation documents, 1954-1967; Series II. Richard Hamilton correspondence, 1960-1966; Series III. Personal correspondence, 1957-1980; Series IV: Collection documents, 1954-1967; Series V. Collection photographs, n.d..

    Indexing Terms

    Subjects - Names

    Arp, Jean, 1887-1966
    Baj, Enrico, 1924-2003
    Bellmer, Hans, 1902-1975
    Charchoune, Serge, 1888-1975
    Copley, Noma
    Copley, William Nelson, 1919-1996
    Ernst, Max, 1891-1976
    Hamilton, Richard, 1922-
    Hérold , Jacques, 1910-1987
    Man Ray, 1890-1976
    Roth, Dieter, 1930-1998
    Tanguy, Yves, 1900-1955
    Tanning, Dorothea, 1910-

    Subjects - Corporate Bodies

    William and Noma Copley Foundation

    Subjects - Topics

    Art, Modern--20th century
    Art--Collectors and collecting
    Art--Private collections
    Art--Scholarships, fellowships, etc.
    Publishers and publishing

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Christmas cards
    Drawings (visual works)
    New Year cards
    Photographic prints
    Photographs, Original


    Arp, Jean, 1887-1966
    Baj, Enrico, 1924-2003
    Bellmer, Hans, 1902-1975
    Cage, John
    Celmins, Vija, 1939-
    Chryssa, 1933-
    Copley, Noma
    Copley, William Nelson, 1919-1996
    De Maria, Walter, 1935-
    Delvaux, Paul
    Flavin, Dan, 1933-1996
    Glanville-Hicks, Peggy
    Hamilton, Richard, 1922-
    Hérold , Jacques, 1910-1987
    Jones, Charles, 1910-1997
    Kelkel, Manfred
    Lam, Wifredo
    Man Ray, 1890-1976
    Mason, Raymond, 1922-2010
    Matta Echaurren, Roberto Sebastián, 1912-2002
    Metcalf, James, 1925-
    Milhaud, Darius, 1892-1974
    Petlin, Irving, 1934-
    Pfriem, Bernard, 1914-
    Sage, Kay
    Tajiri, Shinkichi, 1923-2009
    Tanning, Dorothea, 1910-
    Turner, Charles, 1921-
    Waldberg, Patrick
    Westermann, H. C. (Horace Clifford), 1922-