Skip to Main Content

Art Topics and Resources in the Manuscript Collections at the Library of Congress

Primary sources for research can be found in personal papers, official documents, and written accounts. This guide focuses on various art topics including photography, sculpture, fashion, and design.


Aubrey Beardsley. Illustrated letter to G. F. Scotson-Clark concerning James McNeill Whistler's Peacock Room. 1891. Pennell-Whistler Collection of the Papers of Joseph and Elizabeth Pennell and James A. McNeill Whistler. Library of Congress Manuscript Division.

The Manuscript Division is home to various remarkable fine arts, photography, and architecture-related collections. Researchers may access correspondence, client files, diaries, designs, drawings, and photographs within the papers of both amateur and professional individuals such as Herbert Block, D. M. N. Stouffer, I.M. Pei, and Charles Wellington Reed. Such archival material may be discovered in collections documenting nineteenth-century scientific explorations, diplomatic missions, and military engagements. Famous artists, like portrait painter and inventor Samuel Finley Breese Morse, and painter and etcher James McNeill Whistler, are represented by their own collections, while the correspondence and documentation of others may be found throughout the collections of their acquaintances, contemporaries, and associates.

The Whistler collection, which was compiled by Joseph and Elizabeth Robins Pennell, is one of the finest sources in the world for information on Whistler and his contemporaries as well as on the earlier pre-Raphaelite painters and their patrons. Sculptors Paul Wayland Bartlett, John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum, Jo Davidson, Daniel Chester French, Vinnie Ream Hoxie, Adelaide Johnson, Lee Oskar Lawrie, and William Zorach all have collections of papers in the Manuscript Division. Correspondence, client files, designs, drawings, photographs, and other materials (formats also divided among the Library's custodial divisions) document the influential career of industrial designer Raymond Loewy and filmmakers and designers Charles and Ray Eames. The papers of photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston, celebrated chiefly for her portraits of prominent personalities, also include information on her photographs of southern gardens and architecture. Similarly, the papers of architects Montgomery C. Meigs, William Thornton, Charles Follen McKim, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe document the design and construction of America's built environment, from bridges and aqueducts, to the United States Capitol, to award-winning modern commercial and residential structures.

Attention: All researchers are advised to contact the Manuscript Reading Room prior to visiting. Many collections are stored off-site, or may have access restrictions, and advance notice is needed to retrieve these items for research use. Researchers interested in consulting any of the division's collections are strongly encouraged to write the Manuscript Reading Room via the Ask a Librarian form or email at [email protected] to inquire about the status of collections of interest.

Prints & Photographs Division

Many of the collections listed in this guide may be cross-categorized, as many of the artists, sculptors, photographers, and designers were multi-talented and not restricted to a single form or practice. In addition to collections held by the Manuscript Division, visual material of various formats from these collections, including drawings, photographic prints, negatives, slides, and other formats from these collections may have been transferred to the Prints and Photographs Division. Researchers should contact the Prints and Photographs Division directly for access to such material.