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Deane Keller papers

Call Number: MS 1685

Scope and Contents

The papers include extensive information on the professional and personal lives of Deane Keller. The collection details the practice, clientele and income of a professional portrait painter in the twentieth century. Documentation of Keller's career provides valuable commentary on the coexistence of traditional and avant garde art forms. It also illustrates the continuing demand for painted portraits in an age of mechanical reproduction, when photographs provided an affordable, but not always utilized, alternative. The collection also includes extensive records of Allied attempts to protect Italian art objects during World War II, dating from Keller's service as a Fine Arts officer attached to the Fifth Army in Italy. Visual and textual materials document Keller's activities and the fate of specific monuments and collections. These materials on the German and Allied struggle to control and preserve Italian artistic patrimony vividly illustrate the cultural and propagandistic importance of museums and art objects in Western culture. Keller's life as a soldier is described in his extensive wartime correspondence. Family relationships are also documented through correspondence. Of particular interest is that between Keller and his father, Albert, the eminent Yale professor of sociology dedicated to continuing the work of William Graham Sumner. These letters document the father-son relationship as well as the elder Keller's political and academic opinions.


  • 1910-1983
  • Majority of material found within 1943 - 1975


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright for unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by Deane Keller has been transferred to Yale University. These materials may be used for non-commercial purposes without seeking permission from Yale University as the copyright holder. For other uses of these materials, please contact

Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Mrs. Deane Keller, 1991. Transferred from the Yale Medical Historical Library, 2021.


Arranged in six series: I. Personal, 1911-1980. II. Correspondence, 1910-1983. III. World War II, 1940-1960 (inclusive), 1943-1946 (bulk). IV. Professional, 1914-1980. V. Writings, 1936-1978. VI. Teaching, 1930-1968.


29.92 Linear Feet (54 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, files on portrait clients, military documents and photographs from Deane Keller's service during World War II, teaching files, and miscellaneous writings, documenting Keller's professional and personal lives.

Biographical / Historical

Deane Keller was born in New Haven, Connecticut, on December 14, 1901. He was the son of Caroline Gussman Keller and Albert Galloway Keller, Yale Professor of Sociology and disciple of William Graham Sumner. Keller grew up in New Haven and received his high school education at the Taft School. He graduated from Yale University in 1923 with a degree in history and science. Despite the protests of his father, Keller went on to pursue his true interest in art at the Yale School of Fine Arts, earning a B.F.A. in 1926. Keller was awarded a Prix de Rome in the subsequent year on the basis of his submission of an allegorical painting, and spent three years studying at the American Academy in Rome. He began his lifelong career as a teacher at the Yale School of the Fine Arts in 1929 as an Instructor of Painting and Drawing. In 1938 he married Katherine P. Hall. They had two sons, Deane G. and William.

Keller's forty year career teaching life drawing and traditional painting techniques to Yale art students was interrupted only by his service in World War II. Keller served as a Fine Arts officer attached to the Fifth Army in Italy from 1943 to 1946. His duties as a Fine Arts officer were twofold: to locate and safeguard art treasures, and to coordinate emergency restoration of damaged monuments, churches and museums. For example, he was often first on the scene at places like the Campo Santo, Pisa, where he directed efforts to preserve frescoes badly damaged by American artillery. Keller also supervised the return of famed artworks taken from the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, by German forces. For his efforts during the war he was awarded the United States Legion of Merit, the Member of the British Empire medal, and the Order of St. John the Lateran from the Vatican.

Keller's second career was that of a portrait painter. At Yale he was known as the "unofficial portraitist of the Yale faculty." At his death he had completed over 160 portrait commissions for the university, including faculty, corporation board members, and two presidents. Keller also painted a wide range of portraits for clients outside Yale; some of his famous subjects included Senator Robert Taft, Governor John Lodge, and Presidents William Howard Taft and Herbert Hoover.

Keller returned to his position as a professor of painting and drawing at the Yale School of Arts in 1946. During the 1950s and 1960s Keller was a staunch supporter of traditional techniques in the face of the modern arts movements headed by Joseph Albers, chairman of the department of design at the Yale School of Art. Keller retired from teaching in 1970, but continued to paint portraits. Of his own work he said, "I'm not a modern painter at all. [My work] is naturalistic. Some would call it realistic, but it's not necessarily that. All painting is interpretation." Deane Keller died in Hamden, Connecticut, on April 12, 1992, at the age of 91.

Guide to the Deane Keller Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Catherine Roach
February 2002
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

Yale University Library
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