A Finding Aid to the Julian E. Levi Papers, 1846-1981, in the Archives of American Art
Portions of this collection are digitized

Collection ID:
Levi, Julian E. (Julian Edwin), 1900-1982
Physical Description:
6.9 Linear feet
The papers of painter and teacher Julian E. (Edwin) Levi date from 1846 to 1981, and comprise 6.9 linear feet. They include biographical information and extensive correspondence with museums and galleries, as well as letters written to his family, circa 1927, while Levi was living in Paris. Also found within the papers are scattered drawings and sketches by Levi, writings and notes, financial records, two scrapbooks, printed material, miscellaneous records and photographs that document Levi's professional career and personal life.

Scope and Content Note
Scope and Content Note
The papers of painter and teacher Julian E. Levi date from 1846 to 1981, and comprise 6.9 linear feet. They consist of biographical information, correspondence, artwork, writings and notes, financial records, scrapbooks, printed material, miscellaneous records and photographs that document Levi's professional career and personal life.
Biographical information includes French documents regarding his trips to Paris in 1920 and 1926-1927. Julian E. Levi's Correspondence, 1914-1981, and undated, concerns professional and personal matters and consists primarily of incoming letters from friends and colleagues, arts organizations, museums, schools, and galleries. Also found are approximately sixty letters he wrote to his family circa 1927, while living in Paris. In addition, a small number of Henderson Family letters, 1846-1886, are included with the Julian E. Levi papers; their relationship to Levi is unclear. Found within the correspondence are illustrated letters and original artwork in the form of greeting cards. Additional Artwork consists mainly of pencil drawings and sketches by Levi, including a large number of stage costume designs.
Writings by Levi consist of brief statements concerning his work and other artists, brief reminiscences of friends, a poem, and the text of a speech. Notes contain miscellaneous jottings, lists of paintings, addresses and telephone information, and address books. Among the writings by others are catalog introductions for Levi exhibitions by unknown authors, and by Lewis Mumford and Archibald MacLeish for An American Group, Inc.
Financial Records concern both business and personal transactions and document art sales, commissions, consignments, and gallery expenses. Also included are receipts, a small number of banking and tax records, and scattered documentation of purchases, appraisals, and sales of antiques in his collection.
Scrapbooks (2 disbound volumes) contain clippings, other printed items, and a few photographs documenting Levi's exhibitions. There are a substantial number of exhibition catalogs and announcements. Miscellaneous printed material includes brochures, newsletters and publications, clippings, invitations, announcements of meetings, blank postcards, travel brochures and printed souvenirs. Also found is a copy of his book, Modern Art: An Introduction, and one of the articles he published in the American expatriate periodical Gargoyle.
Items of note among the Miscellaneous Records pertain to the American Artists' Congress, An American Group, Inc., Downtown Gallery, and New York City Council for Art Week. Other items of interest are a blueprint of plans for Levi's studio at his home in Easthampton, New York, and records regarding the New School for Social Research where Levi taught for many years.
Photographs of artwork include a disbound album of Levi's work and exhibition installation views that show paintings by Levi. Pictures of Levi include some taken when he was a young child, along with many views of him in his studio, with students, and others. Many views of places probably were used as reference for paintings. Other places recorded in photographs include Downtown Gallery, Stuart Davis's grave, and studios he occupied while in Paris, circa 1926-1927 and at the American Academy in Rome, 1967-1968. Of particular note are copies of Resettlement Administration and Farm Security Administration photographs.

The collection is organized into 9 series. Correspondence and Scrapbooks are arranged chronologically. Other series are further categorized by record type or broad topic, with material in each folder arranged chronologically or alphabetically, as noted in the series descriptions.
    Missing Title
  • Series 1: Biographical Information, circa 1906-1980 (Box 1; 14 folders)
  • Series 2: Correspondence, circa 1846-1981 (Boxes 1-3, OV 9; 2.3 linear ft.)
  • Series 3: Artwork, circa 1922-1972 (Box 3; 8 folders)
  • Series 4: Writings and Notes, circa 1938-1978 (Box 3; 11 folders)
  • Series 5: Financial Records, 1920s-1980 (Box 3; 0.4 linear ft.)
  • Series 6: Scrapbooks, 1921-1940(Box 4; 2 folders)
  • Series 7: Printed Material, circa 1922-1981(Boxes 4-6 and OV 10; 2.3 linear ft.)
  • Series 8: Miscellaneous Records, circa 1940-1974 (Box 6 and OV 9; 0.2 linear ft.)
  • Series 9: Photographs, circa 1902-1974 (Boxes 6-8 and OV 11; 1.1 linear ft.)

Biographical Note
Biographical Note
Julian Edwin Levi was born in New York in 1900, and his family relocated to Philadelphia six years later. At age 17, Levi enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts where he studied under Henry McCarter and Arthur B. Carles. Upon completing his studies at the Academy in 1919, Levi was awarded one of the Pennsylvania Academy's Cresson Traveling Scholarship which enabled him to travel to Italy during the summer of 1920.
Levi then headed to Paris where he spent the next four years. During this time he became fluent in French, looked at a wide variety of art that influenced him to experiment with abstraction, and had paintings accepted for exhibition the Salon d'Automne of 1921 and 1922. He met many artists in Paris, and developed a close friendship with Jules Pascin. He retuned for a second stay in Paris during 1926 and 1927.
Upon his return to Philadelphia in 1924, Levi and several other modern artists in the city (including his former instructors Carles and McCarter) began exhibiting together under the name "31." The group's work was not well-received. For the remainder of his time in Philadelphia, he continued to paint and on several occasions was able to see Albert Barnes' collection that normally was not open to the public. Levi moved to New York City in 1932 and was attracted to the support and cooperation offered by various artists' organizations. He became a member of An American Group, Inc., in 1933, and was in active in the American Artists' Congress beginning around 1937. Later, Levi was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters, an Associate Artist of the National Academy of Design, and a member of the Century Association.
The sea, beaches, dunes, and shores served as inspiration for many of Levi's paintings. He studied his subjects closely, amassing a wide knowledge of boats, fishing, and related equipment; he even learned professional fishing and sailing techniques in order to better understand his subjects. Levi also focused on painting people, and his wife often served as his model. Paintings by Levi are in many museums, among them: Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Art Institute of Chicago, Butler Institute of American Art, Cranbrook Academy of Art, Des Moines Art Center, Detroit Institute of Arts, Guild Hall, Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Newark Museum, Norton Simon Museum, Santa Barbara Museum, Springfield Museum of Art, Toledo Museum, University of Illinois, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Many of the paintings Levi produced while employed by the Federal Art Project, 1936-1938, served as the nucleus of his first one-man show held in 1940 at Downtown Gallery. He remained with Downtown Gallery for more than a decade. Later, he was associated with the Alan Gallery, Frank K. M. Rehn Galleries, and Nordness Gallery, each of which staged frequent solo exhibitions of Levi's work. He participated in most of the major national exhibitions and in the Venice Biennale, winning prizes awarded by the Art Institute of Chicago, Carnegie Institute, National Academy of Design, University of Illinois, Guild Hall, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. A large retrospective exhibition of his work was organized by Boston University in 1962, and a small retrospective was held in 1971 at Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
A highly respected and much loved teacher, Levi emphasized the importance of drawing and provided individualized instruction. He considered himself a "coach" and viewed his students as less experienced artists (all were encouraged to call him Julian instead of Mr. Levi). His teaching career, which lasted for more than three decades, began in 1946 with his appointments as a painting instructor at the Art Students League and the New School for Social Research in New York City (later the New School appointed him director of its Art Workshop). In 1964 he began making weekly trips to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, where he taught painting; at the start of the 1977 academic year, he reduced his schedule to once a month and acted as a general critic. During the 1967-68 academic year, Levi was on sabbatical leave while artist-in-residence at the American Academy in Rome. In addition, he taught summer courses at Columbia University in the early 1950s and occasionally served as a guest instructor at other summer programs over the years.
Julian Levi died in New York City, February 28, 1982, after a brief illness.

Catherine S. Gaines
The papers were a gift received in several accessions between 1969-1982 from Julian E. Levi and his estate (Herman Englander, executor). Portions of the collection were microfilmed upon receipt.
Alternative Forms Available
Portions of the collection are available on 35 mm microfilm reels 483-486 and 3244-3248 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.
Processing Information
Material received between 1969-1972 was microfilmed upon receipt on reels 483-486. Material donated 1973-1982 was microfilmed on reels 1817-1818. The papers were processed by Catherine S. Gaines in 2005, merging all previously filmed and unfilmed materials according to archival standards. The arrangement of the collection does not match the microfilmed order of the papers.

Using the Collection
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Preferred Citation
Julian E. Levi papers, 1846-1981. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

More Information

Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Scrapbooks Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Interviews Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Sketches Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Art -- Economic aspects Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Painters Occupation Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Painting, Modern -- 20th century -- New York (State) -- New York Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Art -- Study and teaching Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Drawings Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Photographs Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Artists' studios Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Illustrated letters -- Local Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Works of art Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
New School for Social Research (New York, N.Y.) -- Faculty Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
American Artists' Congress Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
An American Group (Organization) Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Downtown Gallery (New York, N.Y.) Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

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