The Montclair Art Museum is the premier repository for the art and papers of leading American modernist Morgan Russell (1886–1953). Henry M. Reed, a resident of Caldwell, New Jersey, who served on the Museum’s Board and Art Committee from 1985 to 1990, donated this collection in 1985. The Morgan Russell Archives and Collection, which prior to 2005 had never been fully inventoried, consists of thousands of works on paper (in various media from graphite to watercolor); six oil paintings; two rare examples of sculpture; scores of sketchbooks and notebooks; thousands of pages of correspondence; and more than 300 photographs of Russell, his work (including exhibition installations), his family, friends and associates, and his French studio—as well as many additional documents. The collection is a unique record of the complexities of Russell’s aesthetic and intellectual adventures. For instance, well documented is Russell’s development of the first officially declared modern American art movement Synchromism (meaning “with color”), which Russell pioneered in Paris from 1912 to 1914 with fellow expatriate painter Stanton MacDonald-Wright. The wide range of MAM’s Morgan Russell holdings provides compelling evidence of Russell’s mercurial and tireless drive to analyze and record the inner workings of his art, as well as art around the world.
Dating from ca. 1907–1946, over 250 paintings, drawings, and watercolors are preserved within MAM’s art collections. Among them are several still-life paintings, including the early synchromist Still Life with Bananas, ca. 1912–13, as well as an important study for Russell’s largest painting Synchromy in Orange: To Form, of 1914 (Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo). Several oils on paper are studies in transparency related to Russell’s unrealized plans for constructing kinetic light machines, including the rare light box construction Study in Transparency, ca. 1913–23. Others are color studies and figural studies, many of them based on the sculpture of Michelangelo and other old masters that Russell admired and closely studied at the Louvre and at various sites in Italy. A significant group of drawings is related to the development of Russell’s first abstract Synchromist painting, the seminal Synchromy in Blue Violet, of 1913 (Curtis Galleries, Minneapolis).
Russell’s private papers in the archives, dating from ca. 1910–1946, include a treasure trove of correspondence with a number of leading artists and critics of his day, as well as lesser-known figures, providing a rare glimpse into the art world of his time. Among these documents are letters from the renowned French poet-critics Guillaume Apollinaire and Blaise Cendrars, as well as the connoisseur and pioneering collector of modern art, Leo Stein. Other important correspondents represented here are Russell’s former teacher Robert Henri and the leading critic and champion of Synchromism, Willard Huntington Wright.
The Russell Archives also comprise personal items such as address books, business papers, Russell’s passport and marriage certificate, art society membership and museum entry cards, exhibition announcements and catalogues, concert programs, original music scores, and art catalogues. Among the many other documents are maps, travel brochures and guidebooks; art periodicals, newspaper and magazine clippings (on Russell’s work, art, music, and various other subjects); calling cards, handbills, receipts for art supplies, and book catalogues. Especially notable among the photographs is an informative series documenting Russell’s early work in plaster sculpture, dating from his first settling in Paris in 1909—and most of which has since been lost or is no longer extant—generously donated to the Museum in the fall of 2004 by Russell’s surviving stepdaughter Simone Joyce.
Two Morgan Russell exhibitions organized by the Montclair Art Museum in 1990 and 1998 (curated and co-curated, respectively, by Marilyn S. Kushner, former Curator of Collections, Montclair Art Museum, and current Department Chair, Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, and Curator of Prints and Drawings, Brooklyn Museum; and Gail Stavitsky, Chief Curator, Montclair Art Museum) presented selections of the archives and collection that powerfully illustrated the richness and diversity of the Museum’s holdings. Selections from the Russell Archives and Collection were also presented in other shows at MAM, such as a concise exhibition of Morgan Russell drawings (guest-curated by Gregory Galligan) in the spring of 2006, and the exhibition Cézanne and American Modernism (curated by Gail Stavitsky) in the fall of 2009, which explored the profound influence of Cézanne upon Russell and Macdonald-Wright, as well as other American moderns such as Max Weber, Marsden Hartley, and Arshile Gorky.
Morgan Russell Collection Study Completed with funds from the Henry Luce Foundation
The Montclair Art Museum is pleased to announce the completion of the Morgan Russell Archives and Collection Enhancement Project. Begun in May 2004 under the direction of Gregory Galligan, a scholar of modern American and French art (Ph.D. candidate, Institute of Fine Arts, NYU), the project received support from the Henry Luce Foundation. Reporting to the MAM’s Chief Curator, Gail Stavitsky, and coordinating work with Museum staff and consulting specialists including Archivist Nancy Johnson and Morgan Russell scholar Marilyn S. Kushner, Galligan’s tasks included researching and organizing and taking inventory of the entire collection and archives, building upon the foundation of previous efforts. In addition, Galligan and Johnson have produced a Comprehensive Guide that details the archival holdings and provides an overview of the Museum’s larger inventory of artwork by Russell. This guide contains extensive scope-and-content notes for every category of the archives and the collection. It includes a foreword by Kushner, an introduction by Stavitsky, and a scholarly essay by Galligan providing new commentary on Russell and his work, and introducing new discoveries and insights made in the course of this intensive project.
Providing all of the standard descriptive elements—series descriptions, item titles, date ranges, scope-and-content notes, corresponding biographical notes, access terms, etc.—for both the art collection and for each complementary archival item, the guide also serves as the basis for future exhibitions of Morgan Russell and his contemporaries. Thus the guide will afford new insights into Morgan Russell’s unique contributions to the evolution of abstract art during the first decade of the twentieth century.
The assistance of the following individuals is acknowledged with thanks: Renee Powley, Registrar; Rosemary Vence, Associate Registrar; Aran Roche, Manager of Grants & Corporate Membership; Susanna Sabolcsi, former Director of Library Services; Joseph Zadroga, Senior Exhibition Designer, Charles Cobbinah, former Senior Exhibition Designer; Mary Fletcher, Data Manager; and Maryanna Roberts, Preparator. Three curatorial interns, Laura Demoreuille (Connecticut College), Caitlin O’Brien (Rutgers University), and Sumia Ibrahim (Rutgers University), have also generously contributed their time and valuable skills to many aspects of this project. Consultative assistance was generously provided by Marilyn S. Kushner, Department Chair, Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, and Curator of Prints and Drawings, Brooklyn Museum, and a noted specialist in Morgan Russell studies. Kushner curated the MAM’s exhibition, Morgan Russell: A Retrospective, of 1990.
The Morgan Russell Archives and Collection: A Comprehensive Guide
The Comprehensive Guide to the Morgan Russell Archives and Collection provides a detailed introduction and orientation to the Morgan Russell holdings at the Montclair Art Museum. Intended for both professional researchers and the general public, this Guide is unsual among "finding aids" for other archives, in that it contains extended descriptive and annotated entries. The Guide includes excerpts from Russell’s own writings, some never before known to researchers or the general public, including correspondence, business and financial papers, the artist’s notebooks, private and public writings, printed materials, music, photographs, drawings and sketches, and paintings and sculpture.
The creation of this Comprehensive Guide was made possible by the generous funding of the Henry Luce Foundation, as part of the "Morgan Russell Archives and Collection Enhancement Project, 2004–2006," directed by Gregory Galligan in collaboration with chief curator Gail Stavitsky and consulting archivist Nancy Johnson. Included is an extended essay by Galligan that highlights recent key findings and discoveries, as well as a reconsideration of Russell’s work and place as a pioneer in early American modernism.
American Art Review, The Morgan Russell Archives, Vol . XVIII No. 4 2006- This article by Gregory Galligan summarizes the project.
Above Image: Morgan Russell, Study in Transparency, c. 1913–23, Oil on tissue mounted on wood, The Morgan Russell Archives and Collection, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Henry M. Reed, 1985.172.53