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Breslin (James E. B.) Research Archive on Mark Rothko
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biographical/Historical Note
  • Administrative Information
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: James E. B. Breslin research archive on Mark Rothko
    Date (inclusive): 1900-1994 (bulk 1940-1990)
    Number: 2003.M.23
    Creator/Collector: Breslin, James E. B., 1935-
    Physical Description: 18.7 Linear Feet (32 boxes, 1 flat file folder)
    The Getty Research Institute
    Special Collections
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles 90049-1688
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10020/askref
    (310) 440-7390
    Abstract: 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 notes.
    Request Materials: Request access to the physical materials described in this inventory through the catalog record  for this collection. Click here for the access policy .
    Language: Collection material is in English

    Biographical/Historical Note

    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 major book, Mark Rothko: a biography, published in 1993 after nearly eight years of research, was praised by Hilton Kramer in the New York times book review 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.

    Administrative Information


    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.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred citation

    James E. B. Breslin Research Archive on Mark Rothko, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Accession no. 2003.M.23

    Acquisition Information

    Acquired from Ramsay Bell Breslin, James Breslin's widow, in 2003.

    Processing History

    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 biography (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.

    Arrangement note

    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 reproductions, 1900-1994 Series V. Book publication files, 1989-1993 Series VI. Audio recordings of interviews, 1985-1990

    Indexing Terms

    Subjects - Names

    Weber, Max, 1881-1961
    Rothko, Mark, 1903-1970
    Still, Clyfford, 1904-1980
    Motherwell, Robert
    Newman, Barnett, 1905-1970
    Gottlieb, Adolph, 1903-1974
    Kuh, Katharine
    Avery, Milton, 1885-1965
    Ashton, Dore

    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

    Color transparencies
    Slides (photographs)
    Photographic prints
    Photographs, Original


    Rothko, Mark, 1903-1970
    Motherwell, Robert
    Breslin, James E. B., 1935-