Scope and Content of Collection
Title: James E. B. Breslin research archive on Mark Rothko
Date (inclusive): 1900-1994 (bulk 1940-1990)
Breslin, James E.
18.7 Linear Feet
(32 boxes, 1 flat file folder)
The Getty Research Institute
1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
Los Angeles 90049-1688
Archive assembled by James Breslin,
professor at the University of California, Berkeley, as he researched and wrote Mark Rothko:
a biography. The Russian-born American painter's life and work are the central subjects of
the collection, situated in broad historical and artistic contexts with particular emphasis
on Abstract Expressionism and the New York art world from the 1920s through the 1960s.
Materials include interview recordings and transcripts, correspondence, financial and legal
documents, photographs, clippings, assorted printed materials, and extensive
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Language: Collection material is in
James E. B. Breslin was born December 12, 1935, in Brooklyn, New York. He received a B.A.
from Brooklyn College in 1957 and an M.A. in English from the University of North Carolina
in 1959. In 1964 Breslin earned his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota, and in the same
year joined the English faculty at the University of California, Berkeley.
Breslin's scholarly interests lay in avant-garde American poetry and art of the twentieth
century, particularly in relation to Modernism. In 1970 he published his first book,
William Carlos Williams: an American artist, followed in 1984 by his study
of post-World War II poetry entitled
From modern to contemporary. His third
Mark Rothko: a biography, published in 1993 after nearly eight
years of research, was praised by Hilton Kramer in the
New York times book
as "a biographical classic" and "the best life of an American painter that
has yet been written," December 26, 1993.
Following the publication of his Rothko biography, Breslin was appointed chair of the Art
Practice Department at UC Berkeley. He was completing an introduction to a catalog of Squeak
Carnwath paintings with his second wife, Ramsay Bell Breslin, and researching a biography of
jazz great John Coltrane when he suffered a fatal heart attack in 1996.
Open for use by qualified researchers, with the exception of unreformatted audiotapes and
the Theodoros Stamos file, Box 32, which will remain sealed until 2076.
James E. B. Breslin Research Archive on Mark Rothko, The Getty Research Institute, Los
Angeles, Accession no. 2003.M.23
Acquired from Ramsay Bell Breslin, James Breslin's widow, in 2003.
Ramsay Bell Breslin numbered the folders and wrote an extensive inventory in preparation
for the Getty Research Institute's acquisition of the archive. Laurel McPhee began
processing and arranging the collection and writing the finding aid in November-December
2003 and Andra Darlington completed the work in December 2005-April 2006. James Breslin's
original order was maintained in the alphabetical arrangement of files on individuals and
institutions, and in the topical arrangement of other files; new topics were assigned and
documents interfiled as necessary. Original file folders were retained only if Breslin had
written notes on them.
Scope and Content of Collection
Assembled by James Breslin as he researched and wrote
Mark Rothko: a
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), the collection addresses
the same subjects as the book, but in greater depth and detail. With files relating to
Rothko's early childhood in Dvinsk, Russia, his family's emigration to Portland, Oregon, his
education, his troubled personal life, the development of his career, his artistic process,
and his suicide, the collection comprises a rich compilation of materials on the life and
work of a key figure in twentieth-century painting. Like Breslin's book, the collection
situates Rothko and his work within broad historical and artistic contexts, emphasizing
abstract expressionism and the New York art world from the 1920s through the 1960s. Among
the individuals featured prominently in the collection are artists Robert Motherwell,
Barnett Newman, Clyfford Still, Adolph Gottlieb, Milton Avery, and Max Weber, and critics
Dore Ashton and Katharine Kuh.
Included in the collection are audio recordings and many transcripts of Breslin's
interviews with approximately 100 of Rothko's surviving family, friends, fellow artists,
collectors, dealers, curators, and critics, including ten audiotapes of interviews with
Motherwell. Much of the collection was photocopied from the personal papers of Rothko's
friends, family and associates, and archives at museums, galleries and historical societies.
Photocopied materials include correspondence with Mark Rothko, pages from his notebooks,
vital, legal, financial, and medical records, documents regarding the commission,
exhibition, and sale of artwork, and assorted documents related to the lawsuit brought by
his daughter against Marlborough Galleries and the executors of Rothko's estate following
his death. Photographic materials include slides, prints, negatives, and transparencies,
predominantly reproductions of Rothko's paintings, but also personal photographs reproduced
from other collections, photographs of the landscapes and landmarks of Rothko's childhood,
and exterior views of his studios in New York City. Also included are critical and art
historical articles and theses, Breslin's original correspondence and extensive handwritten
notes documenting his research process, and materials related to the publication of his
book. The dates provided for photocopied materials and other reproductions correspond to the
original documents. Undated items produced by Breslin, including his notes, are dated within
the years of his research, circa 1983 to 1992.
The archive is arranged in six series: ; ; ; ; ; .Series I. Research files on individuals, 1913-1994
Series II. Research files on
institutions and organizations, 1922-1992
Series III. Topical research files, 1903-1991
Series IV. Photographs and
Series V. Book publication files, 1989-1993
Series VI. Audio recordings
of interviews, 1985-1990
Subjects - Names
Rothko, Mark, 1903-1970
Still, Clyfford, 1904-1980
Newman, Barnett, 1905-1970
Gottlieb, Adolph, 1903-1974
Avery, Milton, 1885-1965
Subjects - Topics
Art, Modern -- 20th century
Artists -- Interviews
Abstract expressionism -- United States
New York school of art
Subjects - Places
Daugavpils (Latvia) -- History -- 20th century
Portland (Or.) -- History -- 20th century
New York (N.Y.) -- Intellectual life -- 20th century
Genres and Forms of Material
Breslin, James E.