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HC 2

Forbes, Edward Waldo, 1873-1969. Papers of Edward Waldo Forbes, 1867-2005: A Guide

Harvard Art Museum Archives, Harvard Art Museums, Harvard University
The President and Fellows of Harvard College

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

These papers were processed with the generous support of the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Getty Foundation

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: HC 2
Repository: Harvard Art Museum Archives, Harvard Art Museums, Harvard University
Title: Papers of Edward Waldo Forbes, 1867-2005: A Guide
Date(s): 1867-2005
Quantity: 51 linear feet (119 file boxes, oversize materials)
Abstract: These papers of Fogg Museum director Edward Waldo Forbes document his administration of the museum and a wide range of personal and professional activities and interests. The bulk of the collection dates from 1909 to 1944. The papers consist primarily of correspondence, including a series of correspondence with art dealers, and also include photographs, reports, expedition field notes and journals, printed material, newspaper clippings, blueprints, meeting minutes, letters of recommendation, insurance records, invoices, page proofs, telegrams, rubbings, sketches, visiting cards, shipping documents and press releases.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

The papers were left at the Fogg Museum by former director Edward Waldo Forbes.

Processing Information:

The collection was processed from January to April 2008 by Laura Morris. Some of the expedition records in the collection were processed by Meghan Lydon in 2006; these materials are now in folders 606 through 681.

Conditions on Access:

Access: Unrestricted.
Copyright: The President and Fellows of Harvard College hold any copyright in Forbes' papers. Copyright in some papers in the collection may be held by their authors' heirs or assigns. Researchers must obtain the written permission of the holder(s) of copyright and the Harvard Art Museum Archives before publishing quotations from any material in the collection.

Conditions on Use:

Copying: Papers may be copied in accordance with the Harvard Art Museums Archives usual procedures.

Related Material:

There are additional papers of Edward Waldo Forbes and the Forbes family in the Harvard University Archives and in Houghton Library. There are also papers related to the Sauvegarde de l'Art Français in the Harvard Art Museums Archives.


Edward Waldo Forbes was born July 16, 1873 on Naushon Island, southwest of Cape Cod. He was the son of William Hathaway Forbes, founder and first president of the American Bell Telephone Company, and Edith Emerson Forbes, daughter of poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. Forbes studied at Milton Academy before entering Harvard University, where he received an A.B. in 1895. During his studies at Harvard, Forbes' interest in the fine arts was encouraged by Professor Charles Eliot Norton. In 1898, Forbes traveled to Europe and began an earnest study of art and art history, with a focus on Italian primitive paintings. During these travels he also began to acquire early Italian paintings. Forbes studied English Literature at Oxford University from 1900 to 1902.
Upon his return to Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1902, Forbes formed the Harvard Riverside Associates, a group that purchased land between Harvard Yard and the Charles River which would later become part of Harvard's campus. Forbes continued to cultivate his interest in art and became a trustee of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 1903 and of the Fogg Museum in 1904. He also taught at the Middlesex School in Concord, Massachusetts for one term in 1904, but was obliged to leave the position due to poor health. In 1907, he married Margaret Laighton, an accomplished gardener and watercolorist. They were married until her death in 1966 and raised five children at Gerry's Landing, the Forbes' Cambridge home.
In 1907 Forbes taught his first course, on Florentine painting, at Harvard. He became Lecturer in Fine Arts in 1909, the year he became director of the Fogg Museum. Forbes continued to teach throughout his years as director and was named Martin A. Ryerson Lecturer in Fine Arts in 1935. He was most well-known for his "Egg and Plaster" course, entitled Methods and Processes of Italian Painting, in which students learned about artists' materials and techniques by painting frescoes and using egg yolks to bind tempera to panels.
Forbes assumed the directorship of the Fogg Museum in 1909, after its first director, Charles Herbert Moore, retired At that time, the museum's annual income was minimal, its collections limited, and its architectural spaces not conducive to display and study. Forbes described the collections as being installed, "in galleries where you could not see, adjacent to a lecture hall in which you could not hear." He immediately began efforts to improve the physical spaces of the museum, to garner financial support for its operation and endowment, and to build and strengthen its collections Forbes was tremendously successful in these endeavors; by the time he retired from the directorship in 1944 the Fogg collection had become extensive and world-renowned, the museum was in a new building (opened in 1927) vastly more suited to its purposes, and the museum's financial situation was decidedly more stable.
Forbes' accomplishments at the Fogg were inextricably connected to those of Paul J. Sachs, whom Forbes persuaded to join the Fogg Museum as assistant director in 1915. Under Forbes and Sachs' direction for almost thirty years, the Fogg Museum built a distinguished teaching collection, sponsored a range of archaeological expeditions, and trained curators and directors for many American museums. Both men retired in 1944.
The technical study of works of art was one of Forbes' most passionate interests. He founded the Center for Conservation and Technical Studies (now named the Straus Center for Conservation) at the Fogg in 1928; it was the first fine arts conservation treatment, research, and training facility in the United States. Forbes pioneered the use of x-rays to analyze the technique and authenticity of paintings, to detect repainting, and to further study of attributions. He was also instrumental in the publication and success of Technical Studies in the Field of the Fine Arts, which was published from 1932 to 1942. In recognition of his accomplishments, Forbes was named the first honorary fellow of the Institute of Conservation on his 85th birthday, in 1958. At that time the Institute (now formally called the International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works) also established an Edward Waldo Forbes prize in his honor.
Forbes received many awards and distinctions throughout his career and was also active on various boards and committees. He received two honorary degrees from Harvard: an A.M. in 1921 and a Doctor of Arts in 1942. He was also honored with an LL.D. from the University of Pittsburgh in 1927. Forbes served in the American Red Cross in Italy during the first World War, and he was named Chevalier by the French Legion of Honor in 1937. He was a trustee of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts for sixty-three years (beginning in 1903) and also a trustee of the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford, Connecticut. Forbes was also on the administrative committee of the Dumbarton Oaks Collection and Research Library of Byzantine Studies in Washington, D.C. from 1941 to 1963. In addition, he was a trustee of the Public Reservations of Massachusetts for more than sixty years and a founding member and president of the American Research Center in Egypt from 1948 to 1962.
Throughout his life, Forbes was an avid outdoorsman; he loved to sail, hike, ride and swim, and he was active in the yearly sheeping on Forbes family properties at Nashawena and Naushon Islands in Massachusetts. He was an enthusiastic painter, teased for lugging excessive equipment on even the smallest painting outing, and also loved music and singing. Forbes' kindness, hospitality and generosity were legendary.
Edward Forbes died in Belmont, Massachusetts on March 11, 1969.


The papers are arranged in two series: Series I, General Correspondence (#1-2350), contains correspondence with a wide range of individuals and is arranged alphabetically by folder title. Series II, Dealer Files (#2351-2574), consists of correspondence with art dealers, filed alphabetically by name, as well as photographs of works of art, grouped by geographical location, school or medium.

Scope and Content:

The papers in this collection document Edward Waldo Forbes' career as director of the Fogg Museum, his research interests in the technical study of works of art, his national and international travels, his role as a mentor to students and colleagues, his involvement on boards and committees, and various other personal and professional endeavors and interests. The papers date from 1867 to 2005, with the bulk spanning the years 1909-1944, and consist primarily of correspondence. They include Forbes' so-called "dealer files," in which he maintained letters to and from art dealers separately from other correspondence. The papers include memos, clippings and other published materials, telegrams and radiograms, meeting minutes, reports, expedition logs, photographs, blueprints and architectural drawings, field notes, letters of introduction, lists, page proofs, insurance records, bills of lading, maps, work orders, invoices, posters, press releases, visiting cards, and a few sketches and rubbings.
The folders have been re-housed into archival folders and boxes. Folders and their contents have been kept in their original order, and overstuffed folders have been divided among several folders for the sake of preservation and numbered to indicate that they represent a part of a larger whole (for example: "folder 1 of 2"). The original folder titles have been retained; any added information has been enclosed in square brackets by the processing archivist. The folders are filed alphabetically by title, and in most instances the papers within each folder are filed in reverse chronological order. Occasionally the papers are filed alphabetically instead of chronologically.
It is unknown if the papers' organization was created by Forbes and his staff or imposed by subsequent museum employees. Some folders contained notes of unknown origin and documents clearly added after Forbes' death, including archivists' memoranda. These added materials have been removed from the papers and maintained in separate files in the archives; they may be consulted upon request. The dates of these materials has been preserved in the folder titles, as a cue to researchers that added materials from a given folder can be found in a separate location. Researchers should also note that folder titles are not always entirely accurate or reflective of content. In cases where the folder title and content differ significantly, a note has been added at the folder level of the finding aid.
Acidic documents have been isolated with archival paper and in some cases enclosed in mylar. Fragile materials have been enclosed in mylar. Oversize materials have been filed in oversize storage; separation sheets indicate their removal. These oversize materials may be consulted upon request, and their location is indicated in the detailed container list that follows. Some of the collection suffered water damage in a flood of the archives in 1998; as a result, many of the papers are wrinkled, some ink has run, and some are stuck together and in need of treatment by conservators.

Box and Folder Locations






Form/Genre Terms

Container List