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Giuseppe Donato Papers

Identifier: DON

Scope and Contents

Correspondence between the French sculptor Auguste Rodin and his former student and colleague Giuseppe Donato, who became a noted Philadelphia sculptor comprise the bulk of this collection. Rodin's writings consist of approximately one dozen letters, notes, and brief messages he sent on a few of his calling cards. There are also letters, one each, from Rodin's unidentified secretary, the art critic Jerome Maesse, and Judith Cladel, the French writer who was instrumental in establishing the Musée Rodin in Paris. Donato's correspondence, included here in photocopied format, consists of approximately 30 items written from 1901 to 1916. A fellow Philadelphian, William Struthers, wrote at least two of these letters. There are also three original letters Donato wrote but apparently never sent to Rodin. All correspondence is in French. Keepsakes Donato compiled of his former teacher include an autographed photograph of Rodin and the silk handkerchief and embroidered fabric case in which he kept it, as well as a clip of Rodin's hair Donato saved in an envelope with dried rose petals. Donato's 1965 obituary from the Philadelphia Bulletin is also included.

Most of the material came as a later accession and requires further processing. This "To be processed" material includes "Correspondence," dating 1897-1965. Many of the correspondents were Philadelphia-based, including the Public Industrial Art School, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, city officials and civic organizations. There are also communications from various foundries, most quoting estimates for bronze castings. Most of the "Clippings" are newspaper items regarding Donato's career and works of art, and testify to his contemporary prominence. Many of the clippings are fragile and currently cannot be accessed. "Photographs" best documents Donato's artistic output. His study pieces and finished marble and bronze works are recorded on a significant number of prints, film and glass negatives, as well as a small number of lantern slides. There are also images of the artist in his studios and with some of his prominent sitters, including the maestro Leopold Stokowski. Personal photographs include formal portraits and candid images of Donato, including his trip to Venice, and group and family photographs. Donato probably kept the unused postcards and prints depicting works of art, and the iconography booklet as reference for his own sculpture. These items, along with photographs of Cardinal Dougherty, of whom Donato made a death mask, and the 1940 program from the Walt Disney movie "Fantasia," which included Stokowski's orchestration, are identified here as "Research and reference." Photographic mock-ups experimenting with the placement of Donato's figure of Christ within a mountainous landscape, photographs of a posed dancer, and sculptural tool brochures are also included.

Reminiscent of da Vinci, Donato also devoted years to designing inventions, albeit of a smaller scale than those by his Renaissance compatriot. Based on the amount of documentation included in "Invention designs and related business papers" Donato worked primarily on writing instruments: conducting research, testing his designs on school children and fellow artists, photographing hands using his combo pen-pencils and patenting his designs. There is also a document regarding the incorporation of a business he and two other partners established in Philadelphia in 1933, the Rex-Pen-O-Lead Co., Inc., which was to manufacture, purchase and sell writing instruments and related products. Ten years later, Donato filed a $3.5 million lawsuit against Parker Pen Co. for using his designs after initially rejecting them. Articles, correspondence and other papers document his charge. Twenty years later, Donato apparently continued to refine his designs as made evident by the paragraphs written by young students while using his pens. Other inventions briefly documented include a food grater, shoe tree and fuel exhaust device Donato designed for cars in 1964 in response to President Lyndon Johnson's Clean Air Act. The last group of papers, "Other," consists of various materials that pertain personally or professionally to Donato. Included are drawings, biographical sketches, an exhibition catalogue, membership cards and certificates, passports, ephemera, and autographed photographs, including an oversized one signed by Benito Mussolini. The "Writings" pertaining to Donato's art include his remarks, printed in Spanish, about his monument erected in Cuba to Major General Máximo Gómez Baez. In another typescript, Donato recalls his five meetings with Mussolini.


  • 1897-1965, undated


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research. For particularly brittle materials, photocopies may be provided instead of the originals.

Conditions Governing Use

The Giuseppe Donato Papers are the physical property of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. The Museum holds literary rights only for material created by Museum personnel or given to the Museum with such rights specifically assigned. For all other material, literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. Researchers are responsible for obtaining permission from rights holders for publication and for other purposes where stated.

Biographical / Historical

Born in Italy in 1881, Giuseppe Donato came to America at the age of ten, and by the time of his death established himself as a noted sculptor and recognized figure in the Philadelphia art community. Receiving a city scholoarship, Donato studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Arts from 1897 to 1903. He also studied modeling and architecture at PMA, which operated at that time as the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art. While at PAFA, he won a prize for sculpture as well as a scholarship to study in Europe. In Paris from 1903 to 1905, Donato studied first at the Ecole Des Beaux Arts and then with Rodin. Returning to America, Donato created some controversy with "Burning Desire" and "Nature's Melody," two nudes he created in 1908 for the city of Baltimore. Other works included a large bronze statue of Columbus for the Pennsylvania town of Easton (1930), the west pediment of the building that in 1940 housed the Philadelphia Municipal Court, and a statue completed in 1946 of Thomas Fitzsimmons, one of the signers of the U.S. Constitution, which stands today in Philadelphia's Logan Square. According to a 1965 obituary, Donato's most famous works included busts of Mark Twain and Benito Mussolini, as well as works entitled "Dawn," "Hand of Immorality [sic]," and "Plumline of Human Consciousness." Donato maintained a studio in Philadelphia and was a longtime member of the city's Art Commission.


6 linear feet

Language of Materials



This collection consists primarily of personal correspondence between the French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) and his former student Giuseppe Donato (1881-1965), who became a noted Philadelphia sculptor. There are approximately one dozen original items written by Rodin, and photocopied versions of the 30 pieces of correspondence sent by Donato. Letters from a few other individuals associated with Rodin are also included, as well as a small portrait photograph Rodin autographed to Donato and a clip of Rodin's hair. All 20 pieces of correspondence, including the notated calling cards, are in French. The 1965 obituary of Donato published in the Philadelphia Bulletin is also included.


Correspondence, arranged alphabetically by author, is followed by the files of other genre, which are also in alphabetical order.

Custodial History

Gift of Florinda Donato Doelp and the late David W. Doelp, July 2006.


Photocopied correspondence written by Donato to Rodin from 1901 to 1916 was added to this collection in November 2006. Two of the letters were signed by William Struthers, perhaps writing on Donato's behalf. These copies were provided by the Department of European Painting and Sculpture before 1900. The "original copies" were returned to F. Doelp. In September 2007, Mrs. Doelp gifted an additional 5.75 linear feet of material.

Processing Information

These materials were arranged and described by Bertha Adams. Funded by a grant from The Institute of Museum and Library Services.


Guide to the Giuseppe Donato Papers
Finding aid prepared by Bertha Adams
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Funded by a grant from The Institute of Museum and Library Services

Repository Details

Part of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Library and Archives Repository

Philadelphia Museum of Art
PO Box 7646
Philadelphia PA 19101-7646 United States