The Manuscripts Division is pleased to announce the recent donation of the papers of Sonya Rudikoff (1927-97), a Princeton-based writer, literary critic, and independent scholar of Victorian literature. Rudikoff’s papers include personal and professional correspondence, unpublished fiction writings and lectures, notebooks, and diaries from her undergraduate years at Bennington College. The papers were a gift of Rudikoff’s children: John Gutman, Class of 1983; and Elizabeth C. Gutman, Class of 1985. For twenty years, Rudikoff served as an advisory editor and frequent contributor of literature and art reviews for The Hudson Review, whose extensive archives (C1091) are also in the Manuscripts Division and contain her correspondence with the magazine. Rudikoff also contributed essays and reviews to many other major publications throughout her career and was the author of Ancestral Houses: Virginia Woolf and the Aristocracy, posthumously published in 1999.
Most important for research is Rudikoff’s extensive correspondence with her close friend Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011), the acclaimed second-generation Abstract Expressionist painter. Included are more than 500 letters and postcards from Frankenthaler to Rudikoff, 1950-97. They met at Bennington College, Vermont, in the late 1940s and became close friends based on common interests in art and its history. After graduation, the two shared a New York City studio apartment in 1950. There Frankenthaler introduced Rudikoff to Robert Gutman (1926-2007), whom she would later marry. The couple eventually settled in Princeton, where Robert Gutman became a professor of sociology and architecture at Rutgers University. He and later taught at Princeton University’s School of Architecture. Following Rudikoff’s departure from New York, Frankenthaler sent frequent and detailed correspondence, ranging from postcards during her European travels to long letters about her art career and personal life.
During the early 1950s, Frankenthaler had a close relationship with the influential art critic Clement Greenberg (1909-94), who introduced her to many major figures in the art world and encouraged her to be represented by the Tibor de Nagy Gallery. She had her first solo show there in 1951, and a year later her painting Mountains and Sea helped launch her career. Frankenthaler’s letters detail her thoughts about her early paintings and gallery shows, as well as the vibrant New York art scene in the 1950s and 1960s. Throughout the correspondence, Frankenthaler expresses her view on contemporary art, exhibitions visited, and other subjects. Her letters often contain thoughtful descriptions of her own work processes and studio spaces, her reasons for selecting certain paintings for exhibitions, and her reactions to reviews and publicity surrounding her work.
In 1958, Frankenthaler married the Abstract Expressionist painter Robert Motherwell (1915-91), who is also represented in the correspondence by a few brief letters he and his daughters sent to Rudikoff in the mid-1960s. After Frankenthaler’s marriage to Motherwell, the couple traveled widely together and resided between New York City, Connecticut, and Cape Cod, where they worked in different studios, often throwing extravagant parties for many well-known artists, critics, and writers. Frankenthaler’s letters from this period often describe her impressions of friends, acquaintances, and party guests, including Jackson Pollock, Hans Hofmann, David Smith, Shirley Jackson, Jean Dubuffet, Kenneth Burke, Vladimir Nabokov, Saul Bellow, Peggy Guggenheim, Ralph Ellison, Lionel Trilling, and Stanley Kunitz. Coincidentally, the Manuscripts Division also holds the Stanley Kunitz Papers (C0837).
In addition to describing her own paintings, Frankenthaler’s letters also often include her thoughts on her friends’ artwork, including that of Robert Motherwell, as well as her fluctuating relationship with the New York art world. Throughout her life, Frankenthaler also wrote regarding her political views, thoughts on aging, international travels, literature, health issues, psychoanalysis, and personal relationships, including her 1994 marriage to investment banker Stephen DuBrul. While Frankenthaler’s letters in the 1980s and 1990s are increasingly personal in nature, they offer frequent reflections on her career in earlier years, as well as document her later artwork, exhibitions, and lectures.
Researchers interested in learning more about Sonya Rudikoff’s papers, including Helen Frankenthaler’s letters, should consult the finding aid For information about using the papers, contact firstname.lastname@example.org . The Helen Frankenthaler correspondence is stored onsite, but other papers are offsite. Please consult with the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections about having offsite materials recalled to Firestone Library, a process that normally takes 48–72 hours notice.
Photograph of Helen Frankenthaler (left),
in conversation with Sonya Rudikoff (center).
She is seated next to her husband Robert Gutman,
whose hand is touching Stephen M. DuBrul,
Frankenthaler’s second husband.