UT’s Harry Ransom Center Acquires Significant Archive of Works and Ephemera Related to Paul and Virginia Fontaine

by Jessica Fuentes July 21, 2022

The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin has acquired a collection of artworks, photographs, correspondence, rare publications, and other ephemera related to artists Paul and Virginia Fontaine. 

A black and white photograph from 1950 of a crowd of people in a gallery with works by Paul Fontaine hanging on the wall.

Paul and Virginia Fontaine at an exhibition opening of Paul’s work at Frankfurter Kunstkabinett, June 1950, with art critic Godo Remzhardt, gallery owner Hanna Bekker, and two others. Photo: Fontaine Archive.

Mr. Fontaine, an abstract-colorist painter, and Mrs. Fontaine, a painter, photographer, and avid diarist, both graduated from Yale School of Art and later lived in postwar Germany and Mexico. During his lifetime, Mr. Fontaine’s work was exhibited in the U.S., Mexico, and Europe. Through photographs and writing, Mrs. Fontaine documented the couple’s lives.

In a press release announcing the acquisition, Ransom Center Director Stephen Enniss stated, “Students and researchers will be able to study the growth of a distinctive talent, but one whose vision and practice was always in intimate dialogue with the artistic currents of his time. Through this archival record, researchers will be able to trace Paul Fontaine’s own engagement with his times, and his and Virginia’s shared commitment to art as a communal practice in Europe as it was recovering from the devastation of war.”

The Fontaine’s home in Frankfurt was a meeting place for artists, including Bauhaus painter and weaver Ida Kerkovius; sculptors Karl Hartung, Ewald Mataré and Emy Roeder; painters Willi Baumeister and Hans Hartung, and gallerist Hanna Bekker vom Rath. The archive also contains ephemera and artworks related to the Fontaine’s artistic circle.

The Harry Ransom Center is a humanities research facility focused on providing insight into the creative processes of writers and artists. Its collection includes nearly a million books, over 42 million manuscripts, five million photographs, and more than 65,000 artworks. This acquisition expands the center’s holdings of artworks and archives of creatives working in the early- to mid-20th-century in Europe and Mexico.

The collection was donated by the Fontaine’s daughter, Claudia Fontaine Chidester, who recently authored a book about her mother, titled Trusted Eye: Post-World War II Adventures of a Fearless Art Advocate. In 2013, Mrs. Chidester was a contributing writer and an editor for a book about the life of her father, titled, Work Standing Up: The Life and Art of Paul Fontaine.

Regarding her donation, Mrs. Chidester said, “The Harry Ransom Center is a preeminent home for these primary materials and artwork. We couldn’t be more pleased that the materials will be available for research and provide historical evidence around the importance of supporting the arts during a nation’s reconstruction.”

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