A Finding Aid to the Hugo Gellert Papers, 1916-1986, in the Archives of American Art
Digitized Content

Summary
Collection ID:
AAA.gellhugo
Creators:
Gellert, Hugo, 1892-1985
Dates:
1916-1986
Languages:
Multiple languages
The collection is in English and Hungarian.
English; Hungarian
Physical Description:
6.9 linear feet
Repository:
The papers of graphic artist, muralist, and activist Hugo Gellert measure 6.9 linear feet and date from 1916 to 1986. They document his career as an artist and organizer for the radical political left through an interview, legal papers, financial records, family papers, artifacts, correspondence, writings, organizational records, extensive printed materials (many of them illustrated by Gellert), photographs, and artwork.

Scope and Content Note
Scope and Content Note
The papers of graphic artist, muralist, and activist Hugo Gellert measure 6.9 linear feet and date from 1916 to 1986. They document his career as an artist and organizer for the radical left through an oral interview conducted by Sofia Sequenzia, legal papers, financial records, family papers, artifacts, correspondence, writings, organizational records, clippings, exhibition catalogs, various printed materials illustrated by Gellert, pamphlets, periodicals, mass mailings, photographs, and artwork.
Biographical Material includes an audio interview with Gellert; official documents related to memberships, property, and legal matters; financial documents that include bills, receipts, and contracts related to professional activities; papers of Gellert's brothers, Lawrence and Ernest; and artifacts. Correspondence is with other artists, writers, publishers, activists, friends, and family, including Ernest Fiene, Rockwell Kent, Harry Gottlieb, William Gropper, Philip Evergood, Howard Fast, and Jonas Lie. Writings include essays, book projects, notes, and notebooks written by Gellert; and stories and articles by other authors, including typescripts of early twentieth-century Hungarian short stories collected by Gellert.
Organizational Records are related to political and art organizations in which Gellert was an active organizer, officer, and in some cases, a founder. Because of his central role in many of these organizations, records often contain unique documentation of their activities. Records are found for the American Artists Congress, the Art of Today Gallery, the Artists Committee of Action, the Artists Coordination Committee, the Artists Council, Artists for Victory, Inc., the Committee to Defend V.J. Jerome, Hungarian Word, Inc., the National Society of Mural Painters, and other organizations.
Printed materials include a variety of political publications and periodicals with illustrations by Gellert, including New Masses, Art Front, Magyar Szo, and American Dialog; clippings related to his career, exhibition catalogs, political pamphlets, Hungarian literature, and mass mailings received from political organizations. Photographs contain a few personal photographs but are mostly news and publicity photographs, many of which depict prominent Communists and other newsmakers. Artwork includes sketches, drawings, designs, prints, and production elements for Gellert's artwork, as well as prints and drawings by Philip Reisman, Gyula Derkovits, and Anton Refregier.

Arrangement
Arrangement
The collection is arranged into 7 series:
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1917-1982 (Box 1 and OV 9; 0.5 linear feet)
Series 2: Correspondence, circa 1920-1986 (Boxes 1-2, 8; 0.8 linear feet)
Series 3: Writings, circa 1916-1970 (Boxes 2 and 8; 0.7 linear feet)
Series 4: Organizational Records, circa 1920-1977 (Boxes 3, 8, and OV 9; 1 linear foot)
Series 5: Printed Materials, circa 1920-1986 (Boxes 4-6, 8, and OV 9; 3 linear feet)
Series 6: Photographs, circa 1920-1959 (Boxes 6-7; 0.5 linear feet)
Series 7: Artwork, 1927-1981 (Box 7, OV 10; 0.4 linear feet)

Biographical Note
Biographical Note
Graphic artist, muralist, and activist Hugo Gellert was born Hugo Grünbaum in Budapest, Hungary in 1892, the oldest of six children. His family immigrated to New York City in 1906, eventually changing their family name to Gellert.
Gellert attended art school at Cooper Union and the National Academy of Design. As a student, he designed posters for movies and theater, and also worked for Tiffany Studios. A number of student art prizes with cash awards enabled him to travel to Europe in the summer of 1914, where he witnessed the outbreak of World War I, an experience which helped shape his political beliefs. Aesthetically, he was also influenced by a folk revival among Hungarian artists at the time of his trip, and was more impressed, he later said, with the street advertising in Paris than he was with the cubism he saw in the Louvre.
Returning to the United States, Gellert became involved in the Hungarian-American workers' movement, and contributed drawings to its newspaper, Elöre (Forward). He remained involved in Hungarian-American art and activism throughout his life, including membership in the anti-fascist group, the Anti-Horthy League. When members of the fascist Horthy government unveiled a statue of a Hungarian hero in New York in 1928, Gellert hired a pilot and dropped leaflets on the group, a stunt for which he was arrested. In the 1950s, Gellert served as director of Hungarian Word, Inc., a Hungarian-language publisher in New York.
Gellert's political commitment and art remained deeply intertwined throughout his life, as he continually sought to integrate his commitment to Communism, his hatred of fascism, and his dedication to civil liberties. Throughout the 1910s and 1920s, he contributed artwork to several magazines of the radical left, including Masses and its successors Liberator and New Masses, both of which featured Gellert's artwork on their inaugural issue. Through Masses, he came to know other radicals such as Mike Gold, John Reed, Louise Bryant, Max Eastman, Floyd Dell, Anton Refregier, William Gropper, Harry Gottlieb, Bob Minor, and Art Young, and with them he followed the events of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia with sympathy and growing political fervor.
His brother, Ernest Gellert, also a socialist and activist, was drafted into the military but refused to serve. He died of a gunshot wound under suspicious circumstances while imprisoned at Fort Hancock, New Jersey, as a conscientious objector. Traumatized by this event, Gellert fled to Mexico to avoid conscription. In 1920 to 1922, he taught art at the Stelton School in New Jersey, a radical, utopian community school. He participated in the cultural scene of Greenwich Village, working on set designs, publications, and graphic art for political productions. He founded the first John Reed Club in 1929 with a group of Communist artists and writers including Anton Refregier, Louis Lozowick, and William Gropper. Initially, the group held classes and exhibitions, and provided services for strikes and other working-class activism. Later, John Reed Clubs formed around the country and became a formal arm of the United States Communist Party (CPUSA).
In the late 1920s, Gellert became a member of the National Society of Mural Painters (which, partly due to Gellert's activism in the group, became the Mural Artists' Guild local 829 of the United Scenic Artists Union of the AFL-CIO in 1937. Other members included Rockwell Kent, Anton Refregier, Arshile Gorky, and Marion Greenwood). In 1928, he created a mural for the Worker's Cafeteria in Union Square, NY. Later murals include the Center Theater in Rockefeller Center, the National Maritime Union Headquarters, the Hotel and Restaurant Workers' Union Building, NYC, the interior of the Communications Building at the 1939 World's Fair, and the Seward Park Housing Project in 1961.
In 1932, Gellert was invited to participate in a mural exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, and submitted a political mural about the robber barons of contemporary American politics and industry called Us Fellas Gotta Stick Together - Al Capone. The museum attempted to censor the mural, along with the murals of William Gropper and Ben Shahn. Other artists threatened to boycott the exhibition over the censorship and were successful in restoring them to the show.
The cooperation of artists in this controversy foreshadowed a larger protest in 1934, organized by Gellert, Saul Belman, Stuart Davis, and Zoltan Hecht, when Diego Rivera's pro-labor mural was destroyed at Rockefeller Center. After the incident, the group formed the Artists' Committee of Action and continued to fight censorship and advocate for artists' interests and welfare. They also co-published the magazine Art Front with the Artists' Union, a labor organization. Gellert served for a time as editor of Art Front, and chairman of the Artists' Committee of Action.
Gellert was active in producing both art and strategic policy for the cultural arm of the CPUSA, and he worked to mobilize the non-communist left, often referred to as the Popular Front. In 1933 he illustrated Karl Marx's Capital in Lithographs, and in 1935, he wrote a Marxist, illustrated satire called Comrade Gulliver, An Illustrated Account of Travel into that Strange Country the United States of America. Other published graphic works include Aesop Said So (1936) and a portfolio of silkscreen prints entitled Century of the Common Man (1943).
Other artist groups he helped to found and/or run include the American Artist's Congress, a Communist organization founded with Max Weber, Margaret Bourke-White, Stuart Davis, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Harry Sternberg, and others, which held symposia and exhibitions between 1936 and 1942; the Artists' Coordination Committee, an umbrella group of national organizations which sought protections for federally-employed and unionized artists; Artists for Victory, Inc., which formed in 1942 to mobilize artists in support of the war effort; and the Artists' Council, formed after the war to advocate for artists' welfare and employment.
Gellert maintained his loyalty to the Communist party throughout the post-war period despite growing disillusionment in the Popular Front over the actions of Josef Stalin, and despite the intense anti-communist crusades in the late 1940s and 1950s. He was investigated by the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and was nearly deported. He spent a number of years during this period in his wife's native Australia. Returning to the United States in the early 1950s, he threw his efforts into the defense of others who faced prison, deportation, and the blacklist following the HUAC hearings. He established The Committee to Defend V.J. Jerome in 1951 when Jerome, the cultural commissioner of CPUSA, was convicted under the Smith Act. The writer Dorothy Parker was the group's treasurer.
In 1954, Gellert established the Art of Today Gallery in New York City with Rockwell Kent and Charles White to provide an exhibition venue for blacklisted artists. Exhibitions included Maurice Becker, Henry Glintenkamp, Harry Gottlieb, Kay Harris, and Rockwell Kent. Gellert served as the gallery's secretary until it closed in 1957.
In the 1960s until his death in 1985, Gellert continued his activism through involvement in grassroots political organizations. Unlike many of his radical contemporaries, Gellert lived to see the revival of some of the ideas of the progressive era of the thirties in the countercultural years of the late 1960s and early 1970s. There were retrospectives of his work in Moscow in 1967 and in his native Budapest in 1968, and he appeared in Warren Beatty's film Reds in 1981.
Sources used for this essay include James Wechsler's 2003 dissertation "The Art and Activism of Hugo Gellert: Embracing the Spectre of Communism," his essay "From World War I to the Popular Front: The Art and Activism of Hugo Gellert," ( Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts number 24, Spring 2002), and Jeff Kisseloff's biographical essay for the 1986 Hugo Gellert exhibition at the Mary Ryan Gallery.

Administration
Alternative Forms Available
The papers of Hugo Gellert in the Archives of American Art were digitized in
2007
and
2008
and total
7769
images.
A portion of the printed materials and personal bills and receipts have not been scanned.
Processing Information
The papers were processed to a preliminary level upon accession in 1970, 1983, and 1986. The first accession in 1970 was also microfilmed reel 2812. The papers were merged, re-processed and described in this finding aid by Megan McShea in 2006, and were digitized in 2007 as part of the Terra Foundation for American Art Digitization Project.
Author
Megan McShea
Sponsor
Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art
Provenance
A portion of the papers were donated in 1970 by Hugo Gellert. Additional papers were donated by Gellert and his wife, Livia Cinquegrana, in 1983 and 1986.

Using the Collection
Preferred Citation
Hugo Gellert papers, 1916-1986. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Restrictions on Access
The collection has been digitized and is available online via AAA's website.
Ownership and Literary Rights
The Hugo Gellert papers are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.

Related Material
Among the holdings of the Archives of American Art are an oral history with Hugo Gellert from 1984, a recording of a lecture Gellert gave at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1985, and additional records of Artists for Victory, Inc., 1942-1946.
The Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at New York University holds additional papers of Hugo Gellert.

Keywords
Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Interviews Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Photographs Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Artists' writings Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Politics in art Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Works of art Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Muralists -- New York (State) -- New York Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Authors -- New York (State) -- New York Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Graphic artists -- New York (State) -- New York Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Illustrators -- New York (State) -- New York Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
American Artists' Congress Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Art of Today Gallery (New York, N.Y.) Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Artist's Committee of Action (New York, N.Y.) Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Gropper, William, 1897-1977 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Hungarian Word, Inc. Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Lie, Jonas, 1880-1940 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Kent, Rockwell, 1882-1971 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Refregier, Anton, 1905- Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
National Society of Mural Painters (New York, N.Y.) Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Gellert, Ernest Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Sequenzia, Sofia Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Gottlieb, Harry, 1895- Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Reisman, Philip, 1904- Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Gellert, Lawrence, 1898-1979 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Evergood, Philip, 1901-1973 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Derkovits, Gyula, 1894-1934 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Fiene, Ernest, 1894- Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Fast, Howard, 1914- Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Artists Council Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Artists Coordination Committee (New York, N.Y.) Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Committee to Defend V.J. Jerome Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Artists for Victory, Inc Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Repository Contact
Archives of American Art
750 9th Street, NW
Victor Building, Suite 2200
Washington, D.C. 20001
https://www.aaa.si.edu/services/questions
https://www.aaa.si.edu/