Collection ID: Archives.Friedley.1

Collection context


Breck, Joseph, b. 1885 and Kent, Henry Watson, 1866-1948
Durr Friedley was a staff member of the Department of Decorative Arts of The Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1911 until 1917, serving as an assistant, Assistant Curator and Acting Curator. Records consist primarily of correspondence regarding prospective Museum acquisitions. Items of special interest include letters concerning the Museum’s acquisition of early American colonial furnishings, later displayed in the American Wing.
3.0 Linear feet and (8 boxes)
Preferred citation:

[Title of Item], [Date of Item], Box [Number], Folder [Number], Durr Friedley Records, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Archives.


Scope and Content:

Records include letters regarding potential Museum acquisitions exchanged by Durr Friedley with dealers and private owners of decorative arts objects. There are also some letters from the desks of other Decorative Arts Department staff, notably Assistant Curator Russell A. Plimpton (see Series 2). Prominent dealers and collectors represented include Duveen Brothers, Judge A.T. Clearwater and White, Allom and Company. There are a few personal letters, and a small amount of correspondence from before and after Friedley’s service at the Museum. Also included are collection inventory lists, handwritten notes regarding museum objects, photographs and typescript essays by Friedley and other Museum staff. There is substantial documentation regarding the acquisition by the Museum of colonial interiors and period rooms, and planning for the proposed American Wing. The records also include correspondence between Friedley and other members of the Museum administration including Secretary Henry Watson Kent and Director Edward Robinson.

Biographical / Historical:

Curator and artist Durr Friedley (1888-1938) was born in Indianapolis, Indiana and received a degree in Fine Arts from Harvard University in 1911. (At Harvard and later in life his surname was spelled Freedley; in records from his time at The Metropolitan Museum of Art it consistently appears as Friedley.) He joined the staff of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in October, 1911, as an assistant in the Department of Decorative Arts. In 1912, after favorable recommendations by colleagues, Friedley was appointed Assistant Curator. He was promoted to Acting Curator in 1914 when the department’s Curator, Dr. Wilhelm R. Valentiner, took a leave of absence to enlist in the German army. Valentiner resigned from the Metropolitan in 1917 and Friedley was offered the post of Curator, but he declined and instead announced his own departure from the Museum.

During his time at the Museum, Friedley was involved with the acquisition and exhibition of a wide range of decorative arts objects. He corresponded extensively with collectors and dealers who owned items of interest to the Museum, and assessed objects under consideration by the Purchasing Committee of the Board of Trustees. Towards the end of his tenure, he worked intensively on the acquisition of colonial American interiors and objects intended for exhibition in the Museum’s planned American Wing. Shortly after leaving the Metropolitan, Friedley drew a set of architectural plans for the proposed American Wing, but they were never used.

In 1918, Friedley served in the U.S. Army as a member of the Aviation Section, U.S. Signal Corps (renamed in May 1918 the Division of Military Aeronautics) painting camouflage on war planes. During the 1920s he spent time in Europe as a portrait painter. He eventually returned to the United States and settled in Newport, Rhode Island, where he continued his career as a portrait painter and muralist. He was commissioned to paint the interiors of the Memorial Chapel at the Seaman’s Church Institute of Newport in 1930. Friedley died in a car accident in March of 1938 at the age of fifty. Memorial exhibitions of his artwork were held at the John Herron Art Institute (now the Indianapolis Museum of Art) in November 1938 and at the Walker Galleries in New York City in early 1939.


Prior to processing, the Durr Friedley Records were organized into three series. The first was Durr Friedley correspondence and subject files dating mostly from 1911-1916, but also including a few earlier documents. The second was Durr Friedley correspondence and subject files dating from 1916-1917. The third series was correspondence and subject files of Russell A. Plimpton. The Plimpton series has been maintained while the two Friedley series have been integrated because of general similarities in content and the presence of correspondence that overlapped the chronological break.

Presently, the Durr Friedley Records consist of two series:

Series 1. Durr Friedley Files Series 2. Russell A. Plimpton Files

Both series are arranged alphabetically by corporate name, personal name or subject. Documents within files are arranged chronologically.

Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard



Archives staff regarding permission to quote or reproduce.


[Title of Item], [Date of Item], Box [Number], Folder [Number], Durr Friedley Records, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Archives.

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