Skip to main content

Lydia Winston Malbin papers

Call Number: YCAL MSS 280

Scope and Contents

The Lydia Winston Malbin Papers was created and accumulated by Mrs. Malbin in the course of her art collecting, and serves as a supplement to and an enhancement of her collection of art. In time, it, along with the considerable library she amassed, came to enjoy a life and an importance of its own. In 1974, it was the focus for "Documenting a Collection", an exhibit mounted at the Detroit Institute of Arts (in conjunction with the show "Cobra and Contrasts"), which drew upon the archives holdings. Ultimately, the archives survived after the collection of art ceased to be.

An article in Connoisseur noted, "With a certain irony it would seem that to collect modern art one must not only look to the future, but to the past as well...[the Winstons] have complemented their art with a library and, even more important, with archives carefully and systematically developed. The art object is thus supplemented by a context of factual information, criticism and art history, and is established in a network of biographical, sociological , and theoretical relationships."

The papers are of interest in a number of areas. They provide extensive documentation of a major twentieth-century collection which is no more; they document -- sometimes in great depth -- individual works within the collection; they provide insights into some of the leading artists of this century, and particularly of the Italian Futurists; and they illustrate in detail the practice of art collecting as carried out by Malbin, one of the great American practitioners of that vocation.

They provide valuable information about many of the works of art that graced the collection. LWM was scrupulous about gathering as much information as she could prior to purchasing a work, and about documenting everything of relevance after, including: the costs and problems of transporting the work to their home ; all conservation work; correspondence with the artist and/or his family; correspondence regarding the work, including requests to purchase it; all information about the exhibition of the work; publications in which the work appears or is mentioned; all access to the work, and to the archival information regarding it, by scholars; and secondary materials regarding the work, the artist, the movement. On occasion, she even included relevant discoveries she made: e.g., photographs reminiscent of the work, or examples of the work's influence on advertising, or on other artists.

The papers are a particularly substantive source on the subject of Italian Futurist art. There is a wealth of information on the specific works within the Winston/Malbin Collection and the artists who created them, most notably Severini, Balla, and Boccioni. In addition, LWM collected major documents and minor scraps of information relating to Italian Futurism and its later influence within the art world.

Of special interest are the materials relating to the acquisition and later exhibition of the Boccioni drawings, and the friendship they formed with Signora-Boccioni, Boccioni's sister; the Winstons' exploits in persuading Brancusi to part with one of his works for the first time in twenty years (upon which Harry and Lydia Winston based a delightful one-act play); their experiences in commissioning a mobile by Alexander Calder for their Birmingham, Michigan home.

LWM pursued art collecting with a zest that all who knew her remarked upon. The collection contains many off-shoots of this activity: photographers of their many friends within the art world: artists and their families, fellow collectors, museum curators, and critics. There are articles she wrote, speeches she gave, copies of interviews.

Eventually -- inevitably -- the archive acquired its own reputation within the scholarly community. Numerous students visited the Malbin apartment in New York not only to view the collection, but also to conduct research within the archives. Some of the papers resulting in that research are also contained within the collection.


  • 1891 - 1997
  • Majority of material found within 1938 - 1997


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The Lydia Winston Malbin 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

The bulk of the collection was donated to the Yale University Art Gallery by the Malbin family in 1991 with additional material being donated in subsequent years. The entire collection was transferred to the Beinecke Library in 2007.


The Lydia Winston Malbin Papers are organized into thirteen series: I. Paintings, 1938-1982. II. Sculpture, 1949-1982. III. Graphics, 1944-1988. IV. Drawings, 1946-1985. V. Objects of Art, 1940-1972. VI. Correspondence, 1959-1989. VII. Photographs, 1949-1972. VIII. Gifts and Loans, 1945-1985. IX. Collection Art, 1951-1988. X. Projects and Activities, 1957-1988. XI. Other Papers, undated. XII. Albert Kahn Papers, undated. XIII. Lydia Winston Malbin Papers Addition, 1938-1997.

Within each series but the last, the materials are arranged in the order in which Mrs. Malbin seems to have kept them.


45 Linear Feet (100 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


The collection consists primarily of files relating to individual works of art in the Malbin art collection, in addition to correspondence with artists, curators, dealers, museums and galleries; photographs; documentation regarding gifts and loans; material relating to Lydia Winston Malbin's collecting activities and related projects; a small amount of papers of Malbin's father, Albert Kahn; scrapbooks; and card files. The papers provide extensive documentation of a major twentieth-century collection which is no more and of individual works within the collection; as well as insight into some of the leading artists of this century, and particularly of the Italian Futurists, such as Umberto Boccioni. They also illustrate in detail the practice of art collecting as carried out by Malbin, one of the great American practitioners of that avocation.

Lydia Winston Malbin (1897-1989)

Lydia Kahn Winston Malbin was born November 13, 1897. She was the daughter of Albert and Ernestine Krolik Kahn. Her father was the Michigan architect whose reputation was based upon his innovative and daring designs for Ford Motor Company factories, including the famed River Rouge plant, as well as other industrial complexes elsewhere in the U.S. and abroad.

From her parents Lydia received all the benefits of growing up within a beautiful home amid the pleasures afforded by wealth and culture. Most significantly, she was able to observe the joys of collecting and living amidst great art.

A 1921 graduate of Vassar College, Lydia married Harry Lewis Winston, a young attorney, in 1927. Theirs was a happy union. They were to have three children: two daughters, Sally and Ernestine, and a son, Harry, Jr.

Harry Winston was a man of easy-going temperament and enormous charm who greatly loved his wife. His amused approval of her art collecting and his liking of artists later grew into a passion that nearly equalled hers. They ultimately became a successful and formidable team within the art collecting world: Lydia would search out the background information about an artist and his work and set out to charm and cajole him into parting with it; Harry would handle the actual negotiations and see to the myriad of arrangements necessary to transport the work safely to their home. In addition, he utilized his own hobby, woodworking, to construct boxes, tables and stands for the sculpture.

In 1940, Lydia helped to organize the first show of abstract art for the city of Detroit. She worked along with Hilda Rebay, director of the Museum of Nonobjective Art (which later became the Guggenheim Museum).

In the 1940s, Lydia began studying design at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. She painted watercolors and eventually received a masters degree in ceramics and painting in 1944. This interest and training in ceramics was important because it gave her an eye for shape and design and confidence in her artistic sensibilities. Typically, Harry encouraged this interest, building a ceramics studio for her at their home.

Her ceramics were exhibited in Karl Nierendorf's gallery and were displayed at the Philadelphia Art Alliance and in museums around the country as a part of the Ceramic National, an annual exhibition sponsored by The Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, NY. During World War II, Lydia created a Rehabilitation Program focusing upon ceramics for the American Red Cross, which was used for occupational therapy for wounded soldiers.

In the 1930's LWM began to develop a curiosity about modern art, a difficult interest to pursue at the time if one lived in the Midwest. She also made her first significant art purchases during this period. Around her earlier acquisitions were: two Marins, two Feiningers, one Chagall and one Soutine.

Lydia credited several people with early and enormous influence upon her career as an art collector. Among these were Alfred Stieglitz, Rose Fried, and Alfred Barr, Jr.

She met Alfred Stieglitz, the famed photographer and art dealer, in 1938 at his gallery, An American Place, where she had gone to inquire about purchasing a work by Marin. During this encounter, which she remembered vividly all her life, he questioned her at length and came to the conclusion that she was a woman of moderate means with a great passion for art. He instilled in her the idea that a collector has a great responsibility to art, to the artist and to the world.

Rose Fried, whom she met in 1945, was another art dealer, most notably for her art gallery, Pinacoteca. Ms. Fried helped Lydia form the early portion of her collection.

Barr's books, Cubism and Abstract Art and Twentieth Century Italian Art (which accompanied the 1949 exhibit Barr and James Thrall Soby mounted at the Museum of Modern Art) aroused her interest and planted the desire to experience more of this type of art. The MOMA exhibit included early Futurist artists as well as works by Morandi, Modigliani, and others. LWM did not see the exhibit, but she did receive the catalog, and her interest in Futurism was triggered. There was a certain logic in Albert Kahn's daughter's urge to collect Italian Futurist art, since the movement celebrated industrialism in general and the speed and power of the automobile in particular.

In 1951, Lydia and Harry made their first collecting trip to Europe. In Rome they were introduced to Benedetta Marinetti, wife of the founder of Futurism. From her Futurist collection they acquired numerous Ballas, Boccioni bronzes, and a Russolo; as well as Futurist manifestos. Signora Marinetti also gave them clues to help locate other Futurist works. During this magical journey they also met Gino Severini, whom they later visited at his studio in Meudon, outside of Paris. They acquired his painting, "Dancer Beside the Sea", the first of several works by this artist that were to grace his collection.

With the assistance of Laura Prudi Gamilla Crispati, co-editor of Archivi Futuristi, they made contact with Signora Callegari-Boccioni, the sister of Umberto Boccioni. Over the course of several years they returned to visit her and remained in contact with her. In time, she agreed to part with her collection of his drawings, which represented his development as an artist over the course of his short life. She also parted with his self-portrait in oil. As an act of friendship, she gave the Winstons her brother's principle palette and a gift.

Later trips produced additional treasures. From Giacomo Balla's daughter they obtained his painting, Lavoro and his sculpture, Fist of Boccioni, which became an emblem for the entire Futurist movement. Through Piero Dorazio, a Roman artist and friend, they tracked down and purchased other works by Boccioni, Balla, and Enrico Prampolini. Their friend Willem Sandberg introduced them to the Cobra.

One of their triumphs was their acquisition of Brancusi's sculpture, "Blonde Negress", the first time the artist had parted with one of his works in over twenty years. The Winstons wrote an amusing one-act play about this experience.

In the case of several artists including Balla, Boccioni, Severini, Russolo, Picasso, Carra, Sironi, Prampolini, Schwitters, Picabia and others, the Winstons' collection had an unusual depth. For, they acquired works from various time periods and in various media. The collection began to take on a definite shape. LWM discovered that her interests turned consistently in certain directions, and she was definite about what she did not want, as what she did. She was not interested in "easy" art, in famous artists, in works which were explicit in telling a story, in the pretty, the appealing and the charming. She was drawn to works based on construction and movement in space, to works that provided a challenge to the viewer.

Nor was LWM's interest confined to European artists. In fact, she purchased the first painting by Jackson Pollack to enter a private collection. However, she generally confined her American purchases to art which she felt was influenced by Futurism.

In 1961, LWM, along with Marcel Duchamp, was awarded an honorary doctoral degree in the humanities by Wayne State University.

Several themes ran throughout LWM's life, and frequently intersected. They were: her passion for and curiosity about art, particularly abstract art; her affection for Detroit; and her desire to help others. In 1964, the Mayor of Detroit appointed her to the Arts Commission for the City of Detroit. She also served as a member of the drawings and acquisitions committee of the Whitney Museum in New York City; sat on the Board of Bennington College, and served eight years on the acquisitions committee of the Art Institute of Chicago.

After the Winstons returned from a trip to Europe in 1964, Harry Winston suffered a heart attack. He never fully recovered, and he died April 14, 1965. His death meant much more than a passing of a singular individual and the loss of a much-loved husband and father: it brought an end to a remarkable team in twentieth-century art collecting. Significantly, their works figured in no major exhibitions in 1965.

Lydia later married Dr. Barnett Malbin, who plunged good-naturedly into his wife's world. The Malbins decided to move to an apartment in Manhattan. LWM loved New York City, the center of art activity, and had always wanted to live there. Moreover, Dr. Malbin had been born there.

Their lives slipped into a comfortable pattern: winters in New York, summers in Vermont, trips to France, Italy, Vermont, trips to Europe for the Biennale. Dr. Malbin died in 1985.

Lydia Winston Malbin died October 14, 1989, at the age of 91, in Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.

LWM took a uniquely feminine approach to her collection.

Purchases were not so much business transactions as whirlwind courtships in which she quickly learned as much as she could about the artist and got to know him and/or his family. No purchase was ever truly final until she and her husband has lived for a time with the piece, after which the relationship with the work lasted -- in most cases -- for the remainder of her life. The relationships with the artists and their families endured, as well, sometimes deepening into lasting friendships.

LWM lived with the works -- they graced her home and she often moved pieces about to experiment with new groupings. The result was "...a home that reflects warmth, class, care, and wisely applied passion..."

She nurtured her collection, caring for it with a close and affectionate eye and a determination to seek the best professional help with its upkeep whenever it was needed.

And, mindful of Stieglitz's tutelage, she loved to show off the pieces and share with others the joy they brought to her. Large portions of the collection anchored numerous shows in some of the finest galleries in the world. Individual pieces were sometimes lent to others. LWM frequently opened her home to single students and whole seminars, leading the tours herself. One result of this activity was "...the reciprocal enrichment of the students and the collection through the development of an expanding series of relationships."

As she grew older, LWM became less amenable to lending her art, especially to distant museums, especially after one of her precious Boccioni drawings was lost by a museum. Also, many of the works were inherently fragile because of their media. But, as the loans diminished, her home became more of a classroom.

She lovingly recorded every relevant piece of information she could obtain about every piece in her collection. In fact, LWM created two collections: the great art collection she amassed over the years, and the archives which supported it. The art collection has now been dispersed, but the archives will live on as a testament to a great art collector who brought to bear a knowledgeable eye, a lively intelligence, a feminine sensibility, a certain amount of luck, and excellent timing.

Processing Information

The bulk of the collection was processed and described by Yale University Art Gallery staff in 1993. The finding aid was encoded in Encoded Archival Description (EAD) and additions to the collection were processed by Beinecke Library staff in 2007-2008.

Guide to the Lydia Winston Malbin Papers
by Anne Clifford Newhall
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

P. O. Box 208330
New Haven CT 06520-8330 US
(203) 432-2977


121 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511

Opening Hours

Access Information

The Beinecke Library is open to all Yale University students and faculty, and visiting researchers whose work requires use of its special collections. You will need to bring appropriate photo ID the first time you register. Beinecke is a non-circulating, closed stack library. Paging is done by library staff during business hours. You can request collection material online at least two business days in advance of your visit, using the request links in Archives at Yale. For more information, please see Planning Your Research Visit and consult the Reading Room Policies prior to visiting the library.