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Finding aid for the El Lissitzky letters and photographs, 1911-1941
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Container List


Series I. Letters, most to Sophie Lissitzky-Küppers, 1911, 1923-1941, undated

Physical Description: 138.0 items

Scope and Content Note

In his letters, most of which were written in German, Lissitzky discusses in some detail his professional and personal associations with other artists and architects. Many of the letters concern Lissitzky's contributions to Russian and European art journals, including the volume Merz/Nasci, the journal for the group ABC, the journal L'Esprit Nouveau, and the ASNOVA Bulletin. He discusses each stage of his translation of Malevich's writings and evaluates the significance of Malevich's work and artistic theory. He also writes on some of his own designs, including the beginning of the Wolkenbügel project and his design work for the Pelikan office-supply firm. A number of letters contain sketches of Prouns and Pelikan projects and other designs, as well as humorous drawings Lissitzky made for his children.
The letters also show the evolution of Lissitzky's typographic letterhead, which appears in preliminary handwritten versions and in final printed form. Together with Lissitzky's discussions of his graphic work, the letterhead underscores the importance of his avant-garde typography and design. Two early letters, 1911, are in Russian and not addressed to Sophie.
Box 1, Folder 1

Five letters, , 1911 1923

Scope and Content Note

The two earliest letters (not to Sophie) are written in Russian, the remainder to Sophie are in German, arranged chronologically. In one letter to Sophie, Lissitzky describes his attempts to console Moholy-Nagy who was despondent after the cancellation of an exhibition; in the same letter Lissitzky comments on the striking effect of the Bauhaus on the architectural character of Weimar.
Box 1, Folder 2

ca. 49 letters to Sophie Lissitzky-Küppers, 1924-1925

Scope and Content Note

The majority of these were written by Lissitzky from Switzerland. Arranged chronologically. Lissitzky discusses his relations with other artists (Moholy-Nagy, Gropius, Malevich, Arp, Oud) throughout the letters. He writes in a letter dated 28.12.1924 of his excitement at having met and befriended an engineer (Emil Roth) who agreed to collaborate on the Wolkenbügel project. Many letters discuss the progress of ongoing projects, including his translation of Malevich's writings, contributions to the issue of Merz/NASCI, and his advertising work for the Pelikan office-supply firm, about which he was often unenthusiastic. In a letter dated 7.4.1924, he defends modern Russian art in response to attacks from a newspaper critic. In a letter dated 21.3.1924 he remarks on the difficulty of translating Malevich's writings on Suprematism due to the ethereal, mystical quality of Suprematist aesthetics. On a postcard he draws the device of two faces linked by one shared eye, presaging his well-known poster for the 1929 Russische Ausstellung at the Kunstgewerbemuseum, Zürich. The letters as a group record the development of his typographic letterhead device in hand-drawn designs.
Box 1, Folder 3

ca. 34 letters to Sophie Lissitzky-Küppers, 1925

Scope and Content Note

Letters document Lissitzky's deteriorating relationship with Arp through the late 1920's. Arranged chronologically. He describes his own works, and especially his Prouns, as having a purity not found in Impressionism or Expressionism. A picture postcard of the shipyard at Stettin, Germany, is indicative of the interest in industrial landscape found in his later photographic work. In a letter dated 26.6.1925, Lissitzky writes of his close friendship with Malevich despite their differences of opinion regarding architecture, and notes that Malevich wanted Sophie to be the sole agent of his works chosen for sale or exhibition. He writes of his activities for various publications, including Kunstismen (with Arp), ABC, and the ASNOVA Bulletin.
Box 1, Folder 4

ca. 22 letters, 1925-1935

Scope and Content Note

Letters begin 14.7.1925. Several letters (including letters dated 1.7.1925, 24.9.1925, 18.10.1925, 30.1.1926) tell of his activities as a faculty member at VKhUTEMAS, including one letter ( 24.9.1925) in which he states that he takes inspiration for his work there from the example of Trotsky. He mentions his satisfaction in working with typographer Jan Tschichold in an undated letter probably from November, 1925. His typographic letterhead appears in drawn and printed form on several letters.
Box 1, Folder 5

ca. 18 letters to Sophie Lissitzky-Küppers, 1935-1941

Scope and Content Note

Letters begin 16.6.1935. One in Russian, arranged chronologically
Box 1, Folder 6

Ten letters, sketches, undated

Scope and Content Note

Two of the items are humorous drawings, including one done while he was at the 1928 Pressa Exhibition in Cologne. One item is a sheet of instructions, with sketches, for a Pelikan design project. There is also a postcard from the Graphisches Kabinett Israel Ber Neumann, Berlin, with greetings to Sophie written by Lissitzky and additional greetings written in two other hands.

Series II. Personal notes and documents, 1911-1912, 1924, undated

Physical Description: 14.0 items

Scope and Content Note

The archive contains an assortment of personal notes and official documents in German, French, and Russian. These include approximately a dozen private, informal, handwritten sheets on which Lissitzky wrote down thoughts on art and aesthetics, variously written in German and Russian. Two personal address books indicate the international extent of his connections and associations in the art world. A numbered list of 98 of Lissitzky's artworks includes descriptions and prices. The small number of official documents includes Swiss residency visas, two contracts typed in Russian, and a personal workbook or diary, handwritten in Russian.
Box 1, Folder 7

Notes and documents, , , 1911-1912 1924 undated

Scope and Content Note

Three handwritten notes in German include Lissitzky's speculations on art and aesthetics, one of which is tinged with political views. Three handwritten notes and two typewritten contracts for lectures and publications are in Russian. Two Swiss residency permits are included, dated 1912 (in German) and 1924 (in French). There is included a typed transcription of a letter published in Paul Westheim, Künstlerbekenntnisse (Berlin, 1925) to an unnamed museum director, in which Lissitzky expresses disagreement over the appropriate installation of one of his works. There are two of Lissitzky's personal address books, and a checklist of ninety-eight works of art by Lissitzky, which includes titles, dimensions, brief notes on each work, and prices.

Series III. Photographs, ca. 1920-1931

Physical Description: ca. 165 items

Scope and Content Note

The archive contains an important collection of ca. 115 photographs demonstrating Lissitzky's contributions to exhibition design. They document some of his most prominent international exhibitions, including the Dresden Internationale Kunstausstellung and the Room for Constructivist Art in Hannover, both from 1926, the 1928 Pressa exhibition in Cologne, and the Internationale Hygiene-Ausstellung in Dresden, 1930. The photographs of these and other exhibition spaces illustrate Lissitzky's application of Russian Constructivist principles to exhibition design, and also reveal his skillful use of political and cultural propaganda to promote the Russian state and the utopic vision of the Revolution. There are additionally over 50 original photographs and printed reproductions of a variety of his art and architectural projects.
Box 2

Photographic and printed reproductions, ca. 1920-1931

Physical Description: ca. 65 items

Scope and Content Note

27 photographic and printed reproductions of art and architectural works by Lissitzky. These are mostly of Prouns, but also include photomontage, Pelikan advertisements, and the Lenin Tribune project (ca. 1920). There are twenty-three reproductions of architectural projects. Included are photographs and printed reproductions of sketches for the Wolkenbügel, the facade of the Cologne Presse Exhibition pavilion (1928), a Five Year Plan Architecture model (1930/1931), and designs for Gorky Park (ca.1931).
Ca. 38 photographs of national and international exhibitions designed by Lissitzky are arranged chronologically by city and exhibition: Raum für konstruktive Kunst, Internationale Kunstausstellung, Dresden, 1926; Kabinett der Abstrakten, Niedersächsische Landesgalerie, Hannover, 1927-1928; Polygraphic Union Exhibition, Moscow, 1927.
Box 3

Photographs of exhibition designs, ca. 1928-1930

Physical Description: ca. 100 items

Scope and Content Note

Arranged chronologically by city and exhibition as follows: International Press Exhibition (Pressa), Cologne, 1928, including unaddressed picture postcards from the exhibition and photographs of Lissitzky's displays under construction; Internationale Werkbundausstellung Film und Foto (FIFO), Stuttgart, 1929; Internationale Hygiene-Ausstellung, Dresden, 1930, including exterior views; Internationale Pelz-Fachausstellung, Leipzig, 1930, including views of construction and installation of the exhibition; unidentified exhibition spaces.