Table of Contents
Robert Swain Gifford (1840-1905) was born on the island of Naushon, Massachusetts, and later resided in Fairhaven and New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he showed an early talent for sketching. After tutelage under Alber van Beest, a maritime painter, Gifford left for Boston in 1864 to establish a studio, then moved on to New York in 1865 where he quickly made a name for himself in artistic circles. The years 1869, 1870, and 1874 were spent travelling, first to California to gather material for illustrating an article, then to Europe and Africa. Gifford's talent and reputation as an artist led to his membership in associations such as the American Art Association, the National Academy of Art, the Tile Club, the New York Etching Club, and the Royal Society of Painters-Etchers. He exhibited and won awards at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, 1876, and the International Exposition in Paris, 1889. He also served on selection and judging committees at such events as the World's Columbian Exposition, 1893, and the St. Louis World's Fair, 1904. In 1899, he served as an artist with the Harriman Expedition to Alaska.
In 1874, Gifford married Frances Eliot (1844-1931), daughter of lawyer and statesman Thomas Dawes Eliot. Children from the marriage included Ida Eliot Gifford (1875-ca. 1950), Rose Lamb Gifford Grinnell (1877-1943), Jessie Lloyd Gifford Ross (1879-1947), Frances Lincoln Eliot Gifford Kleiminger (b. 1883), and Margaret Eliot Gifford (1889-1946)
This collection consists primarily of the correspondence, writings, legal documents, and biographical material of Robert Swain Gifford dating from 1722-1968. Of particular note in his incoming correspondence, 1859-1905, are letters from contemporary American artists and writers, including Winslow Homer, William LeBaron Jenny, John LaFarge, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Henry Huttleston Rogers, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and Elihu Vedder. In addition, the correspondence includes numerous letters from Samuel Colman, a landscape painter and president of the American Society of Painters in Watercolor; Samuel Putnam Avery, the founder of the Metropolitan Museum; and Abram Stevens Hewitt of Cooper, Hewitt & Co., founders of the Cooper Union Art School in New York City. Also of interest are Gifford's letters to Mrs. Lydia Swain in the 1860s and 1870s which illustrate his growth as an artist and his acceptance in artistic circles, and a series of letters to Frances Eliot during his journey to Europe and Africa in 1870, some of which contain colored sketches. Among his other papers are diaries from his trip west in 1869 and from the Harriman Expedition in 1899; travel and technical notes, 1874-ca. 1875; essays and poems, 1875-1884; a "College Notebook," ca. 1895; articles in Scribner's, Harper's and Christian Weekly magazines containing illustrations by Gifford, 1871-1887; architectural plans and specifications for his house, Moorlands, ca. 1885; legal documents, 1722-1906; articles and clippings about his work and exhibitions, 1869-1965; lists of paintings, ca. 1880-ca. 1906; exhibit catalogs, 1873-ca. 1906; notes, autographs, and other miscellany, ca. 1850-1909; bills and receipts, 1879-1903; and biographical material including Reminiscences of R. Swain Gifford... by Leroy Yale, 1905-1964. In addition, Gifford's papers contain correspondence, notes, and other writings generated or received by Philip Dechert, husband of Gifford's grand-daughter, Anne Ross, while he was conducting research concerning the artist's life and work.
Also represented by materials in this collection are members of the Gifford family and various relatives by marriage. Frances Eliot Gifford's papers consist of correspondence, 1855-1906, including three letters from Mary Mapes Dodge, ca. 1895, 1896, and 1900; a diary, 1833; travel notes, poems, and other writings, 1874-ca. 1900; legal documents, 1907-ca. 1933; financial records, 1880-1923; "Memoranda," 1905; and biographical sketches of her father, Thomas Dawes Eliot, ca. 1943. Frances' sister, Mary Rotch Eliot Rotch, is represented by her correspondence, 1862-1872. The papers of A. Frederick Kleiminger, husband of R. Swain Gifford's daughter, Frances, include correspondence, 1913-ca. 1934; biographical sketches, ca. 1929; clippings, 1929; and exhibit passes and memoranda, 1909 and 1914. Personal letters to or from Ida Eliot Gifford, Rose Lamb Gifford Grinnell, Jessie Lloyd Gifford Ross, Frances Lincoln Eliot Gifford Kleiminger, and Margaret Eliot Gifford, 1884-1935, are also included in the collection.
Materials in the Gifford Papers have been organized into sub-groups representing personal papers of family members. These sub-groups are listed in the inventory in chronological order by the birthdate of each person. Whenever possible, incoming correspondence has been divided by year, then alphabetically arranged within each year by name of writer. Other papers, organized into series by type of document, are arranged in chronological order.
Also among the holdings of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society are numerous watercolors, oils, and etchings by R. Swain Gifford, as well as a number of family photographs.
A list of Gifford sketchbooks in the Society's museum collection is appended to this inventory.
Arrangement of Collection
Appendix: Sketchbooks of Frances Eliot Gifford, Margaret Gifford, and Robert Swain Gifford, 1860-1980
Access to the Collection
Unrestricted. Consult librarian for an appointment.
New Bedford Whaling Museum Research Library Mss 12 [sub-group, series, sub-series, folder/volume as appropriate], [item]
The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted materials. The Privacy Act of 1974 (5 United States Code 552a) governs the use of materials that document private individuals, groups, and corporations.
Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a reproduction if the document does not infringe the privacy rights of an individual, group, or corporation. These specified conditions of authorized use include:
- non-commercial and non-profit study, scholarship, research, or teaching
- criticism or commentary
- as a NBWM archives preservation or security copy for research use
- as a research copy for deposit in another institution
If the researcher later uses a copy or reproduction for purposes in excess of "fair use," the researcher is personally liable for copyright. privacy, or publicity infringement and agrees to indemnify the New Bedford Whaling Museum from any legal action as a result of the error. Permission to obtain a photographic, xerographic, digital, or other copy of a document does not indicate permission to publish, exhibit, perform, reproduce, sell, distribute, or prepare derivative works from the document without permission from the copyright holder and from any private individual, group, or corporation shown or otherwise recorded.
Permission to publish, exhibit, perform, reproduce, prepare derivative works from, sell, or otherwise distribute the item must be obtained separately in writing from the holder of the original copyright (or if the creator is dead, from his/her heirs) as well as from any individual(s), groups, or corporations whose name, image, recorded words, or private information (e.g. employment information) may be reproduced in the source material. The holder of the original copyright is not necessarily the New Bedford Whaling Museum. The New Bedford Whaling Museum is not legally liable for copyright, privacy, or publicity infringement when materials are wrongfully used after being provided to researchers for "fair use."
This institution reserves the right to refuse to accept a copying order if fulfillment of the order is judged in violation of copyright or federal or state privacy law. This institution also places restrictions on the use of cameras, photocopiers, and scanners in the research room.
Removed to Photographs Collection
- Photograph of painting by Robert Swain Gifford, undated
- Photograph of Frances Eliot Gifford and child, ca. 1880
- Reverend Alexander Mann, D. D., 1909. Belonged to Hope Davison
- House, ca. 1960 [2 items]
- Cloudy sky, undated
Removed to Printed Collection
- American Art Galleries. American Paintings: Works in Oil and Water Colors by the Late R. Swain Gifford, N. A., 1906.
- American Art Galleries. Executrix's Unrestricted Public Sale: Works by the Late R. Swain Gifford, N. A., ca. 1906.
- American Art Journal, Fall 1970.
- "Art and Artists."The Morning Mercury, 13 October 1897. [9 copies]
- The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, February 1882.
- [Dechert, Phillip, comp.] "R. Swain Gifford," 1948. [4 copies]
- Evening Standard, 13 August 1881.
- Guides, Itineraires et Indicateurs, 1874-1875.
- Harper's Weekly, 31 December 1887. [2 copies]
- "Memorial and Re-union... of the Descendants of Tristram Coffin...," 1881.
- The Nation, 14 February 1878.
- The New York Tribune, 10 April 1841.
- Nystrom, John W. Pocket-book of Mechanics and Engineering, 1877.
- "Open Letter to the Residents of Nonquitt," 1951.
- Quotations from the British Poets, 1825.
- Reid's Illustrated Sea-side Souvenir, undated.
- Ross, Denman W. Design as a Science, 1901.
- School of Drawing and Painting, 1894.
- Scribner's Monthly, February 1879.
- Stetson, Edward M. The Story of the Mice in the Moon, 1914.
- "The Story of the Civil War You Never Heard Before." Reprinted from The American Review of Reviews, November 1910.
- Visitors Guide to the Centennial Exhibition and Philadelphia, 1876.
Removed to Objects Collection
- Etchings by Frances Eliot Gifford [8 items]
- Etchings and drawings by Robert Swain Gifford [57 items]
- Etched portrait of Thomas Dawes Eliot, undated
- Advertising card, ca. 1900
- Book plate of Samuel Putnam Avery, ca. 1893
- Design sheet, 1884
- 5000 mark note, 1922
- Menu, 1891
- Racing program, 1874
- Sheet of Japanese stamps, undated
- 20 shilling note, 1775
- 50 shilling note, 1773
Removed to Broadside Collection
- Rules for the Kinsmen, 1888
Removed to Maps Collection
- Map of Chicago Fire, 1871
- Map of Cape Cod, 1892
- Maps of New Bedford, 1892, 1896 [2 items]
Removed to Archives Collection
- "Check List of an Exhibition of Whaling Prints and Paintings..." at the Old Dartmouth Historical Society, 1957
The bulk of materials in this collection were given to the Old Dartmouth Historical Society by Mrs. Philip Dechert between 1973-1981. Some items in Sub-group 1, Series A, Sub-series 2, Folder 36 were donated to the Museum by Robert Ross in 2015 as part of Accession 2015.5.
Processed by: Barbara E. Austen, ca. 1982
Encoded by: Mark Procknik, 01 July 2011
Funds for processing this collection were provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Africa, North--Description and travel--To 1900
Alaska--Description and travel--1896-1959
Architects--United States--Correspondence, reminiscences, etc.
Architecture, Domestic--Mass.--New Bedford--Designs and plans
Art--United States--Societies, etc.
Artists--France--Paris--Correspondence, reminiscences, etc.
Artists--United States--Correspondence, reminiscences, etc.
Authors, American--New York--New York City
Authors--Correspondence, reminiscences, etc.
California--Description and travel--1869-1950
Capitalists and financiers--Mass.--Fairhaven
Chicago. World's Columbian Exposition, 1893
Colman, Samuel, 1832-1920
Copyright--Performing rights--United States
Dechert, Philip, 1906-1970
Diaries--New Bedford, Mass.--1883
Domestic relations--Mass.--New Bedford
Europe--Description and travel--1800-1918
Gifford, Frances Eliot, 1844-1931
Gifford, Ida Eliot, 1875-ca. 1950
Gifford, Margaret Eliot, 1889-1946
Gifford, Robert Swain, 1840-1905
Grinnell, Rose Lamb Gifford, 1877-1943
Hewitt, Abram Stevens, 1822-1903
Illustrated periodicals--United States
Italy--Description and travel--1861-1900
Kleiminger, A. Frederick, 1865-1945
Kleiminger, Frances Lincoln Eliot Gifford, b. 1883
Magazine illustration--United States
New York (City)--Exhibitions
Photographers--Mass.--New Bedford--Correspondence, reminiscences, etc.
Ross, Jessie Lloyd Gifford, 1879-1947
Rotch, Mary Rotch Eliot, 1847-1929
St. Louis. World's Fair, 1904
Women artists--Mass.--New Bedford
Women authors, American
- The Grand Panorama
- Herman Melville
- Captain Paul Cuffe
- Joshua Slocum
- Lighting the Way: Historic Women of the SouthCoast