Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Finding aid for the Clement Greenberg papers, 1928-1995
View entire collection guide What's This?
PDF (236.87 Kb) HTML
Search this collection
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: Clement Greenberg papers
    Date (inclusive): 1928-1995
    Number: 950085
    Creator/Collector: Greenberg, Clement, 1909-1994
    Physical Description: 25.0 linear feet (50 boxes)
    The Getty Research Institute
    Special Collections
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles, California, 90049-1688
    (310) 440-7390
    Abstract: The Clement Greenberg Papers document the professional and personal life of the art critic known for championing American Abstract Expressionist painters.
    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

    Clement Greenberg, born in 1909 to Lithuanian Jewish immigrants, was raised in New York City, Norfolk, Virginia, and Brooklyn. As a child, Greenberg drew from nature with unusual accuracy, and as a teenager he joined the Art Students League, but by the time he attended Syracuse University his interests had shifted to languages and literature, and upon graduation he set out to become a writer. For nearly a decade Greenberg wrote poetry, short stories, and a novel (never finished) while also reading extensively in English, German and French. To earn a living, he worked in his father's businesses, which gave him opportunity to travel and live in various parts of the U.S. During this period he published two stories, one poem, and two book-length translations. He was also briefly married, fathered a son, and divorced.
    He returned to New York City in 1936 and found employment as a clerk, first for the Civil Service Comission, then for the Veteran's Administration, and finally for the Customs Service, Department of Wines and Liquors. His interest in art re-emerged as he began taking drawing classes at a WPA studio and consorting with Greenwich Village artists, including Hans Hofmann, Lee Krasner, and Jackson Pollock. At the same time, Greenberg met the circle of writers around Partisan Review, with whom he shared an interest in socialist politics on the one hand, and aesthetics on the other. In 1939 Partisan Review published Greenberg's "Avant-garde and Kitsch," to great acclaim.
    Soon thereafter, Greenberg joined the editorial staff of Partisan Review, and was employed primarily as a literary reviewer. In 1941 he wrote his first art review for The Nation and, resigning from Partisan Review, served as The Nation's regular art reviewer from 1942 to 1949. He was also the associate editor of Commentary from 1944 to 1957. Greenberg wrote four books: Miró (1948), Matisse (1953), Hans Hofmann (1961), and Art and Culture (1961). The latter, a classic of American art criticism, has influenced artists and critics alike.
    Greenberg is most remembered for having recognized the achievements of Pollock, Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, and other abstract expressionists at a time when few others could perceive them, and still fewer could explain them. Greenberg offered clear, concise explanations in formalist terms, situating these painters squarely within the Western tradition. These painters' unprecedented success assured Greenberg's success; he became America's leading art expert.
    In his personal life, Greenberg carried on numerous amorous relationships with women, among whom were intellectuals and painters known in New York in the 1940s and 1950s. From 1950-1955, Greenberg was romantically involved with the much younger Helen Frankenthaler, with whom he remained friends for the rest of his life. In 1955, as that relationship ended, Greenberg began his lengthy psychoanalysis. He married Jenny Van Horne, an actress, in 1956, and they had a daughter in 1963. The marriage floundered soon thereafter, and the couple eventually divorced but then remarried in the decade before Greenberg's death.
    In the 1950s Greenberg abandoned regular reviewing in favor of occasional articles for major reviews and catalog essays. He also began organizing exhibitions on such painters as Pollock, Adolph Gottlieb, Newman and Hofmann. He gave lectures at museums and universities, served as a consultant for galleries and museums, and from 1958 to 1960 was employed by French and Company. Greenberg's ties to artists, critics, dealers and curators gave him unequalled influence in a booming American art market, influence that endured through the 1960s and 1970s, even though others did not always endorse the artists he championed, such as Ken Noland and Jules Olitski.
    Greenberg's reputation began to decline in the late 1970s after it was discovered that, while serving as the executor of David Smith's estate, he had had the paint stripped from six Smith sculptures. The resulting scandal fueled a kind of revolt against what some saw as Greenberg's tyranny over the New York art world. A new generation of critics emerged who questioned Greenberg's connoisseurship, his view of art history, and his character. Magazine articles referred to him as "the most hated man in the art world."
    Despite this growing opposition, Greenberg continued to publish articles, though less frequently, to give talks in the US and abroad, and to advise certain artists, dealers and curators until his death in 1994. His Collected Essays, published in 1986 and 1993 was highly praised, offsetting to some degree the years of disrepute.

    Administrative Information


    Open for use by qualified researchers, with the following exceptions:
    - Letters from Helen Frankenthaler (Box 5, f.1) are sealed until 13 September 2030;
    - 2 travel diaries written with Helen Frankenthaler (1952-1954, Box 20) are sealed until 13 September 2030.
    The following items were sealed for a period of time and are now open for use by qualified researchers:
    - 18 Journals (1928-1991, Boxes 14-15) were opened 13 September 2005;
    - 32 Diaries (1952-1993, Boxes 21-22) were opened 13 September 2010;
    - 14 Journals (1943-1993, Boxes 16-17) were opened 13 September 2015;
    - Letters from John and Vera Russell (Box 5, f. 2) were opened 13 September 2015.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred Citation

    Clement Greenberg Papers, 1928-1995, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Accession no. 950085.

    Acquisition Information

    Acquired in 1995 from Clement Greenberg's widow, Janice Van Horne. 5 boxes of additions were received 2004: papers (2.5 lin. ft., unprocessed), a videotape and 2 audio cassette tapes (processed and reformatted).

    Processing History

    The Clement Greenberg Papers were processed and cataloged in 1996 by Annette Leddy. Audiotapes and videotapes re-processed and individually cataloged in Oct 2003 and July 2004. Audiotapes, videotapes and film (including 1 videotape and 2 audiotapes received in 2004) were reformatted 2003-2004. Four boxes of additions received in 2004 remain unprocessed.

    Digitized Audio Recordings

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Clement Greenberg Papers document the life of America's most influential art critic from the age of nineteen until his death. They reveal, in extraordinary depth and detail, his personal and intellectual development, and the intertwining of the two. Greenberg's letters to Harold Lazarus, together with his Journals (sealed), tell the inner story of the critic's outward success: his artistic and literary ambitions, his family relationships, his attraction and resistance to women, his obsession with Partisan Review colleagues, his friendship with Pollock and other artists, and his fascination with aesthetics. Numerous manuscripts, often handwritten and in several drafts, reveal Greenberg's writing process and the evolution of his ideas from the late 1920s until the year before his death. The compilation of clippings spanning several decades portray the shifting public view of Greenberg, while photographs and tapes preserve a visual and audio record of him lecturing and otherwise interacting in the art world.
    Missing from these papers is a collection of Greenberg correspondence with art world figures held at the Archives of American Art.
    Various media comprise the Papers, including manuscripts, personal journals and diaries, clippings, photographs, slides, videotapes, audiotapes, and film.
    Additions to the collection have been placed at the end.

    Arrangement note

    The Papers are arranged in 8 series: Series I: Correspondence, 1928-1994; Series II: Personal, 1928-1994; Series III: Manuscripts, 1928-1993; Series IV: Work files: clippings and manuscripts, 1939-1994; Series V: Writings by others: clippings and manuscripts, 1950-1994; Series VI: Photographs and Art Images, 1943-1992; Series VII: Printed Matter, 1966-1992; Series VIII: Videotapes, Audiotapes and Film, 1970-1995; Series IX. Additions to Collection, ca. 1933-1993.

    Indexing Terms

    Subjects - Names

    Bush, Jack, 1909-1977
    Frankenthaler, Helen, 1928-
    Greenberg, Clement, 1909-1994
    Lazarus, Harold, 1909-1983
    Louis, Morris, 1912-1962
    Noland, Kenneth, 1924-2010
    Pollock, Jackson, 1912-1956
    Russell, John, 1919-2008
    Russell, Vera
    Smith, David, 1906-1965

    Subjects - Topics

    Abstract expressionism
    Art criticism--History--20th century--United States
    Art critics--United States--Correspondence
    Art, Abstract--United States
    New York school of art

    Subjects - Titles

    Nation Partisan Review

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Motion pictures (visual works)
    Photographic prints
    Photographs, Original


    Frankenthaler, Helen, 1928-
    Lazarus, Harold, 1909-1983
    Russell, John, 1919-2008
    Russell, Vera