Joseph H. Hirshhorn Papers,
circa 1926-1982 and undated
Digitized Content

Summary
Collection ID:
Record Unit 7449
Creators:
Hirshhorn, Joseph H.
Dates:
circa 1926-1982 and undated
Languages:
English
Physical Description:
29.78 cu. ft. (27 record storage boxes) (1 document box) (3 16x20 boxes) (3 oversize folders)
Repository:
Smithsonian Institution Archives

Introduction
Introduction
This finding aid was digitized with funds generously provided by the Smithsonian Institution Women's Committee.

Descriptive Entry
Descriptive Entry
This collection consists of the personal papers of Joseph Hirshhorn, documenting his correspondence with artists and dealers, 1946-1981. Also included is his general and social correspondence; awards, plaques and diplomas; personal newspaper clippings, 1955-1981; fan letters; some biographical material; and many photographs. Not included in this collection is material relating to his business interests. Artists' correspondence in Boxes 3-7 were donated by Olga Hirshhorn.

Historical Note
Historical Note
Joseph Herman Hirshhorn was born in 1899 in Mitau, Latvia, the twelfth of thirteen children. His father died when Joseph was still an infant. In 1905 his mother emigrated with her children to the United States and settled the family in Brooklyn, New York, where she found work in a purse factory, six days a week, twelve hours a day. To keep the family afloat, the children had to help, and Joseph left school at the age of twelve to sell newspapers. By the age of fourteen, he was an office boy for the firm that later became the American Stock Exchange. In a short time, he became a chartist, charting stocks for an editor on Wall Street. In 1916 he took a small sum he had saved and launched himself as a broker, earning $168,000 the first year.
In 1924 Hirshhorn became a broker's broker, dealing in bank stock and unlisted securities. He made his first million long before he reached the age of thirty. In 1929 he distrusted the booming stock market and pulled out completely with four million dollars just two months before the crash.
In the 1930s, he began to invest heavily in Canadian mining, discovering gold and then uranium. He secretly acquired mining rights to some 56,000 acres, which became two huge uranium mines. By the mid 1950s, his interests stretched across Canada and the United States, involving him in more than two dozen mining and oil companies. Shortly thereafter, he began to reduce his business interests. His fortune was once estimated at more than one hundred million dollars.
Although the grinding poverty of his childhood spurred Hirshhorn to create a fortune, he also credited it with his love of art. His mother managed to buy her children a piano, and an insurance policy with Prudential sent a yearly supply of calendars into the home. The calendars included reproductions of various art works, which Joseph pinned to his wall.
Joseph H. Hirshhorn with Smithsonian Regent and Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller, at the Museum's First Anniversary, December 9, 1975. When he began to make money, he began to buy art, both paintings and sculpture. Using only his own tastes as guidance, he bought and bought, until the size of his private collection had grown to some 5,600 pieces. In the 1950s, he hired an art dealer, Abram Lerner, to curate his collection. Even Lerner could not always keep track of the acquisitions. Hirshhorn would sweep into a gallery and make so many purchases that the dealer felt his head spinning.
Hirshhorn relied solely on his own "feel" for each piece he bought. He once told a dealer who was advising a purchase for investment purposes, "Don't tell me how to make money. I don't collect art to make money. I do it because I love art." (From Art in America, summer 1958.)
In 1966 President Lyndon B. Johnson announced that Hirshhorn would donate his entire collection to the United States along with one million dollars to supplement the collection. A new museum would be constructed on the Mall as part of the Smithsonian Institution and would be named the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. The new museum opened in 1974 with Abram Lerner as its first director. It was called the most important development in art for the Capital since the Andrew Mellon gift of the National Gallery of Art.
Hirshhorn's collection includes an international range of sculpture, but its paintings are primarily modern American. The collection has paintings by Thomas Eakins, Jackson Pollock, and Stuart Davis, and sculpture by Henry Moore, Picasso, and many others.
Hirshhorn was married four times, lastly to Olga Zatorsky Cunningham, who shared his passion for art. His marriages produced four children and two adopted ones. He died in 1981.

Notes
Personal Papers

Using the Collection
Prefered Citation
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7449, Joseph H. Hirshhorn Papers
Access Restriction
Box 31 contains materials restricted indefinitely; see finding aid; Contact reference staff for details.

Keywords
Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Hirshhorn, Olga Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Hirshhorn, Joseph H. Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
De Kooning, Willem, 1904-1997 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
O'Keeffe, Georgia, 1887-1986 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Calder, Alexander, 1898-1976 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Chagall, Marc, 1887- Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Picasso, Pablo, 1881-1973 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Rickey, George Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Ray, Man, 1890-1976 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Hayes, David Vincent, 1931- Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Moore, Henry, 1898-1986 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Motherwell, Robert Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Duchamp, Marcel, 1887-1968 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Avery, Milton, 1885-1965 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Albers, Josef Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Marini, Marino, 1901-1980 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Nevelson, Louise, 1899-1988 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Rivers, Larry, 1925-2002 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Saint-Phalle, Niki de, 1930-2002 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Lerner, Abram Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Eakins, Thomas, 1844-1916 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Pollock, Jackson, 1912-1956 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Davis, Stuart, 1892-1964 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
American Stock Exchange Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Art Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Art museums Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Art -- Collectors and collecting Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Artifacts Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Manuscripts Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Black-and-white photographs Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Repository Contact
Smithsonian Institution Archives
Washington, D.C.
Contact us at osiaref@si.edu