Archives of American Art

A Finding Aid to the Victor Mikhail Arnautoff Papers, 1920-2017, bulk 1920-1953 in the Archives of American Art

Collection ID:
Arnautoff, Victor Mikhail, 1896-1979
circa 1920-2017
bulk 1920-1953
The collection is in English and Russian. There are also a few materials in Chinese.
Physical Description:
3.3 Linear feet

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
The papers of artist and art teacher Victor Mikhail Arnautoff measure 3.3 linear feet and date from 1920 to 2017 with the bulk of the material dating from the 1920 to 1953. The collection contains biographical material such as marriage certificates, passports, naturalization certificates, and an Arnautoff family history; correspondence between family members, as well as with colleagues including Diego Rivera, and with institutions concerning Arnautoff's work; writings about Arnautoff and others, including his statement regarding the House Un-American Activities Committee Hearing; professional records related to mural projects and exhibitions of Arnautoff's work; and printed material including exhibition announcements and catalogs, clippings, and On the Drumhead by Mike Quin, illustrated by Victor Arnautoff. Also included are a scrapbook containing correspondence, printed material, and photographs highlighting Arnautoff's career with particular emphasis on the controversy surrounding his Dix McSmear lithograph, as well as photographic material depicting Arnautoff, other individuals, and works of art. The bulk of the collection is made up of artwork, including sketches, a sketchbook, watercolors, and prints.

The collection is arranged in eight series.
  • Series 1: Biographical Material, 1920-1952, 1961-1979, 1995-1997 (Box 1; 0.1 linear feet)
  • Series 2: Correspondence, circa 1923-2008 (Box 1; 0.5 linear feet)
  • Series 3: Writings, 1956, circa 1984-2006 (Box 1; 5 folders)
  • Series 4: Professional Records, 1940-1953, 1963-2004 (Box 1, OV 5; 0.2 linear feet)
  • Series 5: Printed Material, 1923-1998, 2007-2017 (Boxes 1-2, OV 5; 0.6 linear feet)
  • Series 6: Scrapbook, 1928-1968, 1979-1981 (Bound Volume 4; 0.2 linear feet)
  • Series 7: Photographic Material, circa 1920s-circa 1960s, 2015 (Box 2; 0.2 linear feet)
  • Series 8: Artwork, circa 1920s-circa 1950s (Boxes 2-3, OVs 6-13; 1.4 linear feet)

Biographical / Historical
Biographical / Historical
Victor Mikhail Arnautoff (1896-1979) was an artist and art teacher known for his murals. Arnautoff was born in the Ukraine and served in the Russian army during World War I. After a defeat in Siberia, he crossed into China, where he remained for five years. In China he met and married his wife Lydia, and they had their first two sons.
In 1925 Arnautoff went to San Francisco to study at the California School of Fine Arts. He continued with his family to Mexico in 1929 and became an assistant to muralist Diego Rivera. While in Mexico, his third son was born, and Arnautoff met Bernard Zakheim, with whom he would later work on the Coit Tower murals. Arnautoff and his family returned to San Francisco in 1931 and in 1934 he was chosen to paint one of the murals at the Coit Tower with funding from the Public Works of Art Project. Arnautoff was one of the most prolific muralists in San Francisco in the 1930s, completing murals at Coit Tower and the Palo Alto Clinic, as well as the Presidio chapel, George Washington High School, and the California School of Fine Arts library. He also painted murals at five post offices in California and Texas.
Arnautoff began teaching at the California School of Fine Arts in 1936. He taught at Stanford from 1938 to 1962 and also taught art courses at the California Labor School.
Following the death of his wife in 1961, Arnautoff retired from teaching at Stanford and returned to the Soviet Union in 1963. While living there he continued to create works of art and published a memoir. He died in Leningrad in 1979.

Rayna Andrews
Funding for the processing of this collection was provided by Gerald and Bente Buck.
Existence and Location of Copies
Portions of this collection are available on 35 mm microfilm reels 3429-3430 at the Archives of American Art offices and through interlibrary loan. Researchers should note that the arrangement of the material described in the container inventory does not reflect the arrangement of the collection on microfilm.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The Victor Mikhail Arnautoff papers were donated to the Archives of American Art in 1983 by Jacob and Vasily Arnautoff, Victor Arnautoff's sons. Additional papers were donated in 2018 by Michael and Peter Arnautoff, Victor Arnautoff's son and grandson, and by Robert Cherney, a scholar who wrote a book about Arnautoff.
Processing Information
The collection was minimally processed and a finding aid prepared by Rayna Andrews in 2018.

Using the Collection
Preferred Citation
Victor Mikhail Arnautoff papers, 1920-2017, bulk 1920-1953. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Conditions Governing Access
Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center.

Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Artists -- California -- San Francisco Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Art teachers -- California -- San Francisco Occupation Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Muralists -- California -- San Francisco Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Sketchbooks Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Drawings Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Scrapbooks Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Rivera, Diego, 1886-1957 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
United States. Congress. House. Committee on Un-American Activities 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