Scope and Content Note
Abraham Rattner's papers provide insight into an important time for twentieth century American art and culture. By studying Rattner's papers, the researcher may view the beginnings of Modernism, the cultural change that pushed the boundaries of artistic and literary traditions and provided new ways in which to express ourselves.
The Abraham Rattner and Esther Gentle papers measure 26.3 linear feet and date from 1891 through the 1980s. The collection documents Rattner's life and career as an artist through interviews, extensive correspondence, gallery files, studio notebooks, writings, notes, date books and diaries, photographs, and works of art.
The biographical files contain documents such as Rattner's birth certificate, travel visas, his senior yearbook from 1912 which shows some of his early art work, and some of his awards. His birth certificate is of particular interest since it shows Rattner's birth date to be 1893 instead of the recognized 1895.
The correspondence offers great insight into the thoughts of many American and European artists and writers during the 1930s and 1940s. Rattner, a prolific writer, expressed many of his own thoughts and concerns through his letters, many of which are included in this collection. The vast amount of correspondence include letters from notable figures such as George Biddle, Kay Boyle, Paul Burlin, Norman Carton, Robert Coates, Stuart Davis, Adolph Dehn, Richard de Rochemont, John Dos Passos, Xavier Gonzales, John Howard Griffin, Ramon Guthrie, Robert Gwathmey, Weeks Hall, Stanley W. Hayter, Jean Helion, Hilaire Hiler, Joseph Hirsch, Stefan Hirsch, Carl Holty, Louis Kronberg, Rico Lebrun, Jacques Lipchitz, Earle Ludgin, Thalia Wescott Malcolm, Henry Miller, Joan Miro, Bror Julius Olsson Nordfeldt, Channing Peake, Henry Varnum Poor, Felix Ruvolo, Waverly Root, Jack Gage Stark, Frank C. Watkins, and Allen Weller, among others.
Rattner was engaged in a wide range of special art projects, and he kept detailed files on these projects. The projects spanned from 1940 through 1973 and included endeavors such as illustrations for Life magazine, stained-glass designs, mosaic and tapestry projects, as well as special paintings such as Victory--Jerusalem the Golden and The Gallows of Baghdad. Rattner's papers also detail the history of a fresco painted by Paul Gauguin entitled Joan d'Arcwhich Rattner purchased in France in 1925.
Rattner's forty year friendship with the writer Henry Miller is chronicled throughout the collection in the forms of correspondence, writings, printed material, phototographs and artwork. Their correspondence ranges from 1938 through 1978 and offers great insight into their relationship. Rattner and Miller's road trip from New York to New Orleans in 1940-1941 is documented in the series entitled Special Projects. Also included in the collection are printed material, such as biographical material on Miller, Miller's writings, literary announcements and reviews; Miller's writings on Rattner; and photographs of Miller.
The gallery files contain correspondence, receipts, and notes regarding the galleries which represented Rattner. Those galleries included the Rosenberg Gallery, the Downtown Gallery, and the Kennedy Gallery. A small series of exhibition files contain material about exhibitions held outside of Rattner's representative galleries.
Rattner's writings proved to be an outlet for his thoughts on painting, his inspirations, frustrations, and sadness. In addition to painting, Rattner was able to express his creativity through writing poetry. Writing also helped him work through his depression over the death of his first wife Bettina Bedwell.
He also kept finely detailed studio notebooks. The original order has been maintained, and they trace the history of almost each painting, drawing, and study attempted by Rattner. The notebooks often provide information regarding whether the work was sent to a gallery or given as a gift. Sometimes they contain correspondence or writings that reveal the inspiration for a work. They have been arranged in chronological order, according to Rattner's own filing system.
Rattner retained receipts for most of his art expenses. Arranged by decade, these receipts show the type of paint, colors, types of paper and brushes that he used.
Rattner also kept many household files and personal financial records. Household files contain insurance records, warranties and rental agreements, while the financial records contain returned checks and bank statements. Some bank statements from Esther Gentle Reproductions are also included. The household files and financial records are not filmed.
The date books and diaries reveal the aspects of daily life and the personal thoughts of Rattner and Esther Gentle. In many cases, Rattner shared his date books and diaries with Gentle. The early diaries are fascinating, especially the 1939 diary that discloses the Rattners' last days in France before escaping Nazism and returning to the United States.
Rettner's scrapbooks span from 1938 to 1952 and contain newspaper and magazine clippings that mention the artist or his work.
The printed material covers a period from 1930s through the 1980s and includes exhibition catalogs, exhibition announcements, clippings, and miscellaneous material such as an autograph book from 1969 and a map of Israel that shows Rattner's travel route. There is a large amount of unfilmed printed material that is listed in the series description.
Writings by others consists of writings on Rattner and other topics.
The collection contains many photographs taken of Rattner and taken by him, as well as photos of family, friends, his studio, travels, and photographs of Rattner's art. Photographs of notable people include Henry Miller, Joan Miro, John Dos Passos, Archibald MacLeish, and Malcolm Cowley, among others.
The amount of Rattner's art work included in the collection is small, but it is significant because it provides examples of his very early work, dating from 1912-1914. Some later studies are also present, as well as a number of random sketches. Color was very important to Rattner, and some of his color studies from the 1940s are also included. Art work by other artists is comprised of some small paintings by Max Weber, a water color by Henry Miller, a painting by Ken Buryd, as well as some work by unknown artists.
In addition to tracing Rattner's life and career, the collection also documents the lives of Rattner's two wives, Bettina Bedwell and Esther Gentle. Both women had profound effects on Rattner's work. Among Bettina Bedwell's papers are her diary, fashion sketches, and correspondence. Esther Gentle's papers include correspondence, writings, as well as papers documenting her business Esther Gentle Reproductions. There are a small amount of papers relating to Allen Leepa, Rattner's stepson with Esther Gentle.