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Henry Clifford Papers

Identifier: HCP
The collection documents Henry Clifford’s role as Curator of Paintings for the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Letters, documents, and ephemera reveal the purchase of paintings, dinners and charity events with artists and acquaintances, travel to look at collections of art and works by individuals, and correspondence with artists and museum directors. Much of the collection is comprised of Clifford’s personal correspondence, a majority of which discusses the loan and publication of paintings from his own collection and his travels abroad. Correspondence is organized in alphabetical order by last name of correspondent or proper name of organization. They are often grouped in subjects, with other documents and ephemera. The contents of Box 1 document Henry’s work with the Ballet Theater in NYC, Ballet Guild, Inc. NYC, and the Ballet Russe benefit for the British War Relief Society, Inc. One letter shows Henry asking that the American British Art Center add his name to the effort and request for money (Folder 1); another letter, from Charles Randall MacIver of the American Association for Assistance to French Artists, discusses conditions during World War II that affected French artists and their families (Folder 1). This box also contains Henry’s resume after it was requested by the Army Specialist Corp (Folder 2). Several letters document Henry’s trips to Mexico: the first, a trip in 1942 to work with the Ballet Theater, Chagall, and Messina, on Aleko and Don (Folder 5), and the second, a trip to Mexico City in July 1944, when he hoped to organize an exhibit of paintings for the PMA (Folder 2). The box also contains correspondence with the Liturgical Arts Society of New York City (Folder 8). Box 2 includes a letter regarding the Tanguy exhibit, which helped European artists in a time of crisis (1939) (Folder 1); a letter from 1947 describing progress in Florence after the war (Folder 4); and a letter from the Department of Agriculture indicating its desire to import olive oil from Henry’s farm in Italy. There is also correspondence regarding financial issues pertaining to David Lichine (Folder 5), a letter concerning the Ecclesiastical Art exhibition, and a letter from Alexander Calder (Folder 4). Other letters concern a review of Lionello Venturi’s book on Chagall, Henry’s discussion about the purchase of a Chagall with Mrs. Pierre Matisse, and correspondence about a book titled Art in Advertising. This box also contains correspondence with Sister Noreen of the College of Notre Dame of Maryland and with the Philadelphia Orchestra Association, Ballet Theater, Inc. and the Ballet Theater Foundation (Folder 3). Box 3 consists of further correspondence with Sister Noreen; a letter regarding the proposal of Mr. John Walden Myer, Kenneth Day and George L.K. Morris for resident membership in the Century Association; and documents pertaining to the English Speaking Union, for which Henry served as a board member. In addition to letters to Eugene Ormandy, there exists correspondence regarding the Adult Advisory Committee of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Student Concert Series and Philadelphia Orchestra Association (Folder 9). The box also contains correspondence concerning both the Ballet Theater, Inc. and the Ballet Theater Foundation (Folder 2). Additionally, it contains a note to Georgia O’Keefe to meet for lunch (October 26, 1953) (Folder 8). Box 4 contains correspondence with the Arts Committee of the Catholic Graphic Arts Guild, letters regarding a Juan Gris exhibition, and a letter against sending Michelangelo’s Pieta to New York City for the World’s Fair (Folder 13). Several letters document the Ballet Theater Foundation and Henry’s role on the Board of Directors of the Ballet Theater, Inc. The box also holds correspondence with the Philadelphia Orchestra Association regarding its appeal for funds, an invitation for Henry to hear Billy Graham, letters discussing nominations to the Century Club, and documents pertaining to Vassar’s Centennial loan exhibit (1961) and Middle States Evaluation (Folder 12). Additionally, it contains correspondence regarding tree peonies (Folder 9). Box 5 includes six photographs of Diego Rivera’s murals (Folder 2) and a letter to Georgia O’Keefe inviting her to Mexico (Folder 6). This portion of the collection also documents correspondence regarding the Century Club, Orphans of Italy, and the English Speaking Union. The box contains Henry’s articles for the New Catholic Encyclopedia in addition to a lecture on French painting at the Hermitage delivered in December 1964. This box also includes thirteen individual letters to Henry Clifford by artists Henri Matisse, Leonid Massime, Anthony Tudor, Diego Rivera, Louis Aragon, John Sloan, Alexander Calder and Georgia O’Keeffe, regarding a variety of subjects (Folder 10).


  • Majority of material found within 1939 - 1973


Language of Materials

Materials are in English, French, Italian, Spanish, German, and Russian.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The Henry Clifford Records 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.


2.5 linear feet : 2253 letters, 246 other documents and ephemera

Biographical / Historical

Henry Clifford was born in 1904 in Newcastle, Maine and studied in private schools in the United States and later in Harrow, England. He was married to Esther Harrison Rowland Clifford (1905-1983), a noted scholar and philanthropist, who was educated at Vassar and earned her master's degree and a doctorate in medieval history at Bryn Mawr College. They had two sons (Pier and Nicholas) and eight grandchildren. The Cliffords maintained homes in various locations, including: Rock Rose in Radnor, Pennsylvania; Es Tassoneyres at Mont Pelerin-sur-Vevey, Switzerland; Villa Capponi in Florence, Italy; and a villa at Jonacatapec, Mexico. These locations reflected the Cliffords' scholarly interests, which included Mexican art and European medieval history, as well as "all things modern." Henry Clifford is recognized as one of the Museum's most distinguished curators. He worked in various capacities over time, starting as the Assistant Curator of Paintings in 1932. In 1936, Clifford was promoted to Associate Curator of Paintings; by 1942, he served as full curator. Clifford retired in 1964, so his involvement with the Museum lasted for a total of 32 years. Clifford curated several outstanding exhibitions for the Museum, including: Mexican Art Today (1943); Matisse (1948); Toulouse-Lautrec (1955); Gustave Courbet (1959/60), and A World of Flowers (1963). In collaboration with other museums, Clifford presented Paintings and Drawings by Vincent Van Gogh (1954), Picasso 75th Anniversary Exhibition (1958), and Thomas Eakins: A Retrospective Exhibition (1962). Mr. and Mrs. Clifford's own collection of modern paintings was regularly featured in the Museum's "summer loan exhibitions" in the 1950s and 1960s, and they generously donated several works of art to the institution. At the time of Mr. Clifford's retirement in 1964, former Director Evan Turner said: "Mr. Clifford's connoisseurship and knowledge have unquestionably contributed to the significance of the exhibitions and acquisitions of the Museum during his tenure in office. His example has as well stimulated the considerable growth and quality of private collections in our city." Mr. Clifford passed away in 1974.

*Sources consulted: Philadelphia Evening Bulletin announcement of Henry Clifford's retirement, 10/18/64; Philadelphia Inquirer obituary of Esther Clifford, 8/26/1983

Processing Information

These materials were arranged and described by Sarah Lerner in 2016.


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