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John Barber papers

Identifier: MSS 16530

Content Description

This collection contains the personal art library and papers of the artist and educator John Barber (1893-1965). The collection contains correspondence, clippings, photographs, slides, exhibition catalogues and brochures, biographical information, books, and engraving plates for Christmas cards. These materials document primarily the professional life of John Barber but also includes some of his personal life. There are letters from Hollywood actors Vincent Price who was an art collector and Edward G. Robinson who was born in Rumania like John Barber.


  • Creation: Circa 1910-1999


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is minimally processed and open for research.

Biographical / Historical

John Barber (1893-1965) who became an American artist, was born in Galatz,Rumania to an English businessman Frederick Barber and Esther Jola "Betty" Barber who was Rumanian. John Barber's birthdate was changed to 1898 so that he could immigrate with his family to America. His affluent family moved to the United States in 1908 due to the heated political climate in Europe. As a child, Barber loved to draw, particularly maps. His parents encouraged his studies in art. In order to make his own living, Barber worked as an art reporter for newspapers and illustrated cartoons. He held a job with the political newspaper,The Masses and The Liberator. Through this employment, he became friends with the famous "Eight" in American art, (Robert Henri, John Sloan, George Luks, Everett Shinn, William Glackens, Arthur B. Davies, Ernest Lawson, and Maurice Prendergast.)

Barber continued to study art from a historical and universal point of view identifying the drama that exists in individuals no matter what particular nationality of the individual. He returned to Paris at the beginning of World War I where he studied art from the Fourteenth and Fifteenth century in Paris with Andre L'Hote and Jules Pascin. He visited the Louvre where he modeled his work after the classic great artists such as Michelangelo and Rembrandt. He travelled to Europe and North Africa often. He spent months in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Holland, and Belgium. On his way back to America, he spent six months in Mexico where he was inpired by the colors and scenery and felt that he did some of his best work. His paintings often depict peasants or men and women working in industries such as fishing, marketing, baking, building, or playing music. He returned to New York in 1934 folowing the world depression.He had some successful shows in New York but was frustrated with the way in which art shows had selected juries and did not open itself to new artists. He became the President of Harcum Junior College in Byrn Mawr, Pennsylvania and talught art classes from 1943 to 1946 to support his mother and sister who had left Tunisia to be in his care.

The French government purchased his painting "Portuguese Women making Bread," for the Luxembourg Museum in Paris. He also did a series of pictures of Paris life for the Vecko-Journalen of Stockholm. His paintings were exhibited at the Salon d'Automne and Salon des Tuileries. He also had an art show in Paris, called "Hundred Drawings by Modern Masters". He did a series of paintings in Mexico that were popular. He had exhibits in New York, Detroit, Boston, and Philadelphia. Barber spoke nine languages and completely immersed himself in the culture of the places that he visited and painted. His paintings were more successful in Europe than America. He married psychiatrist, Dr. Margaret de Ronde (1905-1998) in 1948 and they were life long partners. He died in 1965. They had both hoped that the world would one day recognize the classical and universal elements of his paintings. He was often commended for the lighter colors that he could make vibrant and the important effects of light in his paintings. Film star and art collector Vincent Price was an admirer and buyer of John Barber's paintings. Hollywood actor Edward G. Robinson also corresponded with John Barber because he was born in Rumania and was an admirer of his paintings.


12.5 Cubic Feet (7 legal size document boxes, 2 small oversize flat folders, one box set of 2 volumes, and 6 cubics of books )

Language of Materials





Immediate Source of Acquisition

Transfered by Sandra Cintron, Chief Registrar and Collections of the Fralin Art Museum, 22 April 2021.

These material were orginally acquired by the Fralin Art Museum. The materials were brought to the museum for study related to the 1988 retrospective exhibition of the artist. A number of paintings, drawings and other works were donated to the museum in 1985, 1988, 1999, and 2011. The archive was also given with the intent that it would become part of the UVA Library.

Condition Description


  • painting case with oil paint tubes and brushes.
Guide to the John Barber papers
Rose Oliveira/Ellen Welch
23 August 2021
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library Repository

Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library
P.O. Box 400110
University of Virginia
Charlottesville Virginia 22904-4110 United States