Finding Aid Introduction
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Mary Reynolds
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Abbreviation key

AIC—Art Institute of Chicago
EH—Elizabeth Humes
FBH—Frank Brookes Hubachek
MD—Marcel Duchamp
MLR—Mary Louise Reynolds


Mary Reynolds Collection
Finding Aid Introduction

Correspondence, photographs and ephemera of the life of Mary Reynolds were donated over a period of several years by her brother, Frank Hubachek, beginning in 1951. Her collection of rare books and bindings was also donated to the Art Institute's library in the 1950s by Hubachek, who was a Trustee of the museum. Additional material was donated by Mrs. Marjorie Watkins in 1993. Mary Reynolds and her collection are the subject of two publications from The Art Institute of Chicago: Surrealism and Its Affinities: the Mary Reynolds Collection (1956, revised 1973), and Mary Reynolds and the Spirit of Surrealism (Museum Studies, Vol. 22, No. 2, 1996).

Biographical Sketch

Mary (née Hubachek) Reynolds (1891–1950) was one of the most important figures of the Surrealist movement. A young American war widow, she moved to Paris in 1919 and met the circle of artists and writers that formed the Surrealist movement. In July 1923 she met Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968) and began what he called "a true liaison, over many, many years, and very agreeable." Although Duchamp maintained a second apartment for himself, the couple lived for the next two and a half decades in various locales in France.

During the 1920s, Reynolds studied with the Parisian master bookbinder Pierre Legrain (1888–1929) and applied her skills to books given to her by such friends as Max Ernst, Man Ray, Paul Éluard, André Breton, Jean Cocteau, and Salvador Dalí. She chose surprising and unorthodox materials, among them toad skins, corset stays, broken teacup handles, thermometers, sponge rubber, and kid gloves. Although the books were significant among the Surrealist movement, Reynolds did not exhibit any of her bindings, possibly out of modesty or indifference to recognition.

Reynolds was active in the French Resistance during World War II, her home in Paris becoming a safe haven for many of her art-world friends and acquaintances. Choosing to stay in occupied Paris after the border closing, Reynolds came under increasing scrutiny from German invasion forces. When she eventually decided to flee, she had to cross into Spain on foot on her way to catch a neutral vessel from Portugal to the United States. After the war, she returned to Paris where she lived until her death.

She was "relentlessly bohemian," according to the American composer Virgil Thomson, although according to the art collector Peggy Guggenheim, "she was the only person in bohemia with any money, yet she was always broke because she lent it all away the minute it arrived from America." To many of her European artist-friends she was a benefactor, assisting them financially when times were rough. After her death Duchamp, the executor of her estate, sorted through her correspondence and personal possessions, destroying much of what would have provided clues to her somewhat mysterious role in the Parisian art world.


Series I: Mary Reynolds Documents

Correspondence from Mary Reynolds to her brother Frank Brookes Hubachek and others; most of it written from occupied Paris during World War II. Various other ephemera from her life, such as clippings, object inventories, block prints of bookplates, copies of her business cards, French driver's license and other forms of ID are included in this series. There is also a FBI report on her escape from Europe and a published account (with Reynolds' identified by pseudonym) written by her friend Janet Flanner.

Series II: Frank Hubachek and Collection Correspondence

Frank Hubachek's correspondence detailing his attempts to send money to his sister Mary Reynolds in occupied Paris. Complicated transfers of funds between people in Europe and the United States are detailed. Correspondence with Marcel Duchamp regarding these financial dealings and concern for Reynolds' safety. Letters between Frank Hubachek and Reynolds's friend Elizabeth Humes. Correspondence relating to the donation of the Mary Reynolds Collection.

Series III: Catalogue

Preparations for the 1956 Art Institute catalogue. Includes Marcel Duchamp's bookplate design and thank-you letters from Alexander Calder, Jean Cocteau, Peggy Guggenheim, Nancy Cunard, Katherine Kuh, and others.

Series IV: Photographs

Many portrait photographs of Mary Reynolds, some taken by Man Ray. Childhood photographs, photographs of Frank Brookes Hubachek, other miscellaneous images.

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Last modified April 28 2010 11:54:34 AM