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Royal Cortissoz papers

Call Number: YCAL MSS 146

Scope and Contents

The Royal Cortissoz Papers consist of correspondence and a small quantity of personal papers and printed materials which document aspects of the professional life of the art critic and lecturer Royal Cortissoz. The collection has been organized into two series. Series I, Cortissoz Correspondence and Manuscripts, and Series II. Printed Material. The papers span the dates 1864-1959, with the bulk of the material dating from between 1920 and 1955.

Series I, Cortissoz Correspondence and Manuscripts , is housed in boxes 1-12. The material is arranged alphabetically by author, with "Letter General" files for each letter preceding files devoted to individual correspondents. Letters by Cortissoz himself, as well as drafts of articles, research notes, and other personal material, are found listed alphabetically by type of material and then by subject or addressee under the entry for Cortissoz.

Major correspondents include the sculptor Henry Bacon; art critic Bernard Berenson; muralist Edwin Blashfield; art dealer Joseph Duveen; art collector Clarence Mackay; editor and author Edmund Clarence Stedman; drama critic William Winter; Whitelaw Reid; and the author Katharine Prescott Wormeley. Typical subjects include the state of contemporary art; opinions of various painters and their works; discussion of articles and books in progress; professional societies and meetings; personal and family news, and plans for social engagements and travel.

Material concerning the artist John La Farge is located in Box 7, folders 281-291, and includes four folders of letters from LaFarge to Cortissoz, many expressing his appreciation for favorable comments and reviews; four folders of notes and memoranda on La Farge used by Cortissoz in preparing his biography; and a small sketchbook of La Farge's containing pencil sketches of figures and notes for larger works.

Folders 85-110 contain notes for and drafts of various addresses and pieces planned by Cortissoz, including several on American art and artists; folders 110-163 contain letters by Cortissoz. These include some retained carbons, but are mostly originals or photostats added to the papers by Davenport West, Cortissoz's executor, who solicited them from their recipients for inclusion in the collection. It should also be noted that many of the individual files in this series contain correspondence from West, particularly self-addressed reply postcards, requesting participation in this project. These requests were not uniformly successful: Ogden Reid, for example, responded that "The letters that I have from 'Uncle Bob' are of a personal nature and therefore in my opinion not suitable for the Yale University collection" (Box 9, folder 364).

Series II, Printed Material , is arranged in five subseries. The first three contain printed copies of works by Cortissoz: Addresses by Cortissoz; Articles by Cortissoz; and Book Reviews by Cortissoz. Contents include the text of his speech at the dedication of the Henry Bacon Memorial, articles on landscape art, Japanese painting, and Whistler; and reviews of several biographies.

The remaining two subseries, Articles about Cortissoz and Other Printed Material, contain biographical articles, including fiftieth anniversary tributes; memorial tributes to friends of Cortissoz; and programs, including the program for the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in 1922 and a program for a musical evening signed by Rachmaninoff, Kreisler, Stravinsky, and Damrosch, among others.

Oversize material is housed in Box 14.


  • 1864 - 1955
  • Majority of material found within 1920 - 1955


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Restricted Fragile in boxes 15-16 may only be consulted with permission of the appropriate curator. Preservation photocopies or photographic prints for reference use have been substituted in the main files.

Conditions Governing Use

The Royal Cortissoz Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Primarily gift of the Executor and heirs of Royal Cortissoz, 1953. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.


7.76 Linear Feet (16 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers consist of correspondence, a small quantity of personal papers, and printed material relating to the life and career of Royal Cortissoz. Correspondents include Henry Bacon, Bernard Berenson, Joseph Duveen, John La Farge, Clarence Mackay, Whitelaw Reid, Edmund Clarence Stedman, William Winter, and other critics and friends. The personal papers include drafts of articles and lectures by Cortissoz and awards presented to him. Printed material includes copies of writings by Cortissoz, articles concerning him, and miscellaneous programs and invitations.
Also included are notes, memoranda and a sketchbook by John La Farge, collected by Cortissoz in the course of research.


Royal Cortissoz was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Francisco Emmanuel Cortissoz and Julia da Costo Cortissoz. In 1883 he went to work for the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White. In 1889 he was appointed art critic for The Commercial Advertiser, and on October 1, 1891 he was named art critic for the New York Tribune (later the New York Herald-Tribune), a position he held for more than fifty years. Cortissoz was a champion of traditional and representational art, and considered modernist art "sterile." He was the author of many critical articles, three biographies, and six volumes of essays, and became a nationally-known and highly popular lecturer on the arts, particularly painting. Cortissoz also wrote inscriptions for many memorials, the most famous of which appears behind the statue of Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial.

In 1897 he married Ellen Mackay Hutchinson, co-editor with Edmund Clarence Stedman of The Library of American Literature and an author herself. His fiftieth anniversary with the Herald-Tribune was celebrated by many colleagues and admirers. Royal Cortissoz died in New York City on October 17, 1948. At the time of his death, Henry McBride noted his dislike of modern art, but added: "These innovators could not have asked for a fairer opponent. They will miss him. He created the argument and when there is no argument a movement lies flat."

Processing Information

This finding aid was produced from a previously existing card set in the Manuscripts Catalog, or from another inventory. All pertinent bibliographical information has been retained.

Guide to the Royal Cortissoz Papers
Under Revision
by Beinecke Staff
January 2001
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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Access Information

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