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Guide to the Papers of Jennings Yehudah Tofel (1891-1959) 1912-1960   RG 487

Processed by Janet Blatter. Additional processing by Rachel S. Harrison as part of the Leon Levy Archival Processing Initiative, made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation.

YIVO Institute for Jewish Research
15 West 16th Street
New York, NY 10011
Email: archives@yivo.cjh.org
URL: http://www.yivo.org

©2011 YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. All rights reserved.

Electronic finding aid was encoded in EAD 2002 by Rachel S. Harrison in April 2011. Description is in English.

Collection Overview

Title: Guide to the Papers of Jennings Yehudah Tofel (1891-1959) 1912-1960   RG 487

ID: RG 487 FA

Extent: 3.34 Linear Feet


The papers were processed by Janet Blatter. Additional processing was completed in March 2011.

The correspondence is divided between English and Yiddish, both of which are arranged alphabetically. The Yiddish correspondence is arranged alphabetically according to the Hebrew alphabet and the names have also been transliterated according to YIVO standards. English correspondence that was originally in the miscellaneous correspondence folder at the end of the first series for which the correspondent can be identified has been put into individual folders by correspondent name. Yiddish correspondence that was originally in a miscellaneous folder within the Writings series has been put into individual folders by correspondent name within the Yiddish Correspondence series. The Writings series, which was previously unarranged, has been divided into subseries by topic and each subseries is arranged alphabetically. Several folders have been renamed so as to more accurately reflect their contents and these new folder titles have been integrated into the alphabetical order. A miscellaneous folder that originally contained Yiddish correspondence, autobiographical notes and a eulogy for Tofel has been divided and the materials were placed in separate folders. Three bound journals that were originally in one folder have been placed in three separate folders. The collection is arranged in three series, and Series III has been further divided into subseries.

Languages: English, Yiddish, French


This collection contains correspondence between painter, poet, and essayist Jennings Yehudah Tofel and various artists and writers, as well as family correspondence, diaries, journals, manuscripts relating to Tofel’s artistic career, newspaper clippings on Tofel and his art, and manuscripts of Tofel’s essays, poems, dramas, and autobiographical works. The collection illustrates Tofel’s wide range of artistic and literary activities and his role in American modern art.

Scope and Contents of the Materials

The Papers of Jennings Yehudah Tofel consist of materials relating to Tofel’s artistic and literary career, including manuscripts of Tofel’s written works, diaries, journals, and newsclippings on Tofel and his art. There is also correspondence with various artists and writers, as well as family correspondence and condolence letters written to Tofel’s wife upon his death. Manuscripts in Yiddish include “Essayen” (Essays), “Mentshn” (Men), “Vegn Kunst” (On Art), and “Homer's Iliad” in loose pages and bound composition books. There are also autobiographical works, poetry, dramatic works, essays relating to his artistic career, Tofel’s reflections on being an artist, and articles about art, the artist and creativity. Most of the writings are in English.

Autobiographical works include “Autobiography / My Childhood,” an account of his family life in Poland prior to emigration, “Once There Was a Young Man,” “A Painter’s Diary,” “The Life of a Lonely Man,” and various notes and fragments. Titles for folders that contain the same materials have been changed to reflect this fact. The correspondence details the personal relationships between Tofel and Yiddish writers R. Ben-Ari, B. J. Bialostotzky, L. Blumenfeld, Jacob Glatstein, Abraham Goldberg, David Ignatoff, H. Leivick, Abraham Liessin, Mani Leib, Zalman Reisen, Isaac Nachman Steinberg, and Ozer Warshawski, artist Benjamin Kopman and photographer Alfred Stieglitz. A letter from Stieglitz in folder 40 mentions the hardships artists face, giving Georgia O’Keefe and Arthur Dove as examples. The materials in this collection date from 1912-1960.

Historical Note

Jennings Yehudah Tofel was born Yehudah Toflevitch October 18, 1891 in Tomaszow Mazowiecki, Poland, where his father was a ladies’ tailor. The household included three older sisters and four younger brothers, as well as his paternal grandfather, with whom he was very close. At age seven Tofel fell down a ladder and broke his back, a situation that was not discovered until the bone had healed. He had a disfigured shoulder for the rest of his life. He studied in cheder and with private tutors in Poland until the death of his mother when he was eight. At that time, Tofel’s father, Joseph Toflevitch, decided to enroll Tofel in the Alexander School in Tomaszow in order to learn a trade. He entered in 1900 and remained there for three and a half years. Tofel’s father remarried and moved to London to set up a tailor shop and the three daughters joined him there. Tofel and those left behind in Tomaszow were quite poor and he needed to leave school. His father immigrated with the rest of the family to New York, where they were reunited with other relatives. Tofel joined his family in New York in 1905. His name was changed from Yehudah to Isadore upon emigration and later to Jennings when he was working as a bookkeeper who did not allow Jews, although he always signed his Yiddish writings as Yehudah. Tofel studied at the Townsend Harris Hall preparatory school from 1907-1910, where his artistic talent was recognized. He then entered the City College of New York for the fall term of 1910 where he began to paint. He also studied at the Beaux Arts School in New York.

In 1917 he was represented in a group exhibition at the Whitney Studio called “Introspective Art.” His first one-man exhibition came in 1919 at the Bourgeois Galleries. That same year, and for the next several years, he was represented in several group exhibitions at the Arts Club in Chicago and the Smith College Museum of Art in Northampton, MA, with artists such as Oscar Bluemner, Gaston Lachaise, and Joseph Stella.

In 1918, he met Sonia Auerbach, the cousin of his friend Benjamin Kopman. They fell in love, but her family disapproved of the match and they ultimately parted after four years together. In response to this, Tofel wrote Once There Was a Young Man, which examines his own character and which was published in Yiddish as Amol iz Geven a Mentshin Paris in 1927. In 1921, Katherine Dreier of the Societe Anonyme (later the Museum of Modern Art) convinced Tofel to allow publication of his essay “Form in Painting” as a small pamphlet. The Societe Anonyme also published “Expression” in 1923.

In 1925, Alfred Steiglitz arranged the sale of several of Tofel’s paintings, allowing Tofel to go to Paris to further his art studies. He had his second one-man show in Paris in 1927, where he spent three years studying before returning to New York. In 1928, Steiglitz arranged two grants from Otto Kahn and a collector named Schulte, permitting Tofel to return to Europe and continue his studies in Paris. He had an exhibit at the Galerie Zak in fall 1928. In 1929, while visiting his native city of Tomaszow, he met Pearl Weissberg. They married after only a few days of courtship and then returned to Paris, where they lived for a year and a half. When they returned to New York in 1930 Pearl worked in the garment business and the couple never had a permanent address.

In 1931 Tofel had a one-man exhibition at the SPR Gallery in New York and in 1932 the Whitney Museum of American Art purchased his work, “Hagar”. He joined the Artists Project of the Works Progress Administration in 1934. His work was exhibited in the Artists Gallery, starting in 1937, a connection he would maintain until his death. Tofel was also represented in prestigious exhibitions at the American Artists Congress, the Jewish Museum in New York, the Whitney Museum in New York, the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio, the Bonestall Gallery in New York, and the Jewish Community Center in Yonkers, New York. His work also appeared in the collections of the Helena Rubenstein Pavillion in Tel Aviv, the Bezalel Museum in Jerusalem and the George Krevsky Gallery in San Francisco, and the private collections of Joseph Hirshorn, Harry Abrams and Arthur Granick.

Tofel began keeping a journal in 1943 and continued to do so on and off until 1959. He called these journals either “A Painter’s Diary” or “A Painter’s Journal.” Also in 1943 Tofel began writing his autobiography, although he only finished “My Childhood." None of the autobiography was ever published.

Tofel founded the first Jewish Art Center in New York in 1926, along with Benjamin Kopman, and the Art Center at the Congress for Jewish Culture in 1948. He also contributed articles on art, language, philosophy, and other topics to several English and Yiddish periodicals, including the Freie Arbeiter Stimme, Zukunft, In Zikh, Oyfkum, Brikn, and Hemshekh. He also provided illustrations for other writers’ works and published several works of his own.

Tofel had art exhibits at the Artists’ Gallery in New York in 1950, 1952, 1954, 1956, and 1958, which was his last exhibit. In 1959 after suffering ill health for many years, including the loss of his eye to glaucoma in 1946, Tofel’s condition worsened and he died suddenly on Sept. 7, 1959. A retrospective exhibition was held at the Zabriskie Gallery in New York in 1964, and Tofel’s art was represented in the Art Dealers Association of America’s Second Annual Show at the Park Bernet Galleries. He was later represented in the 1975 exhibit “Jewish Experience in the Art of the 20th Century” at the Jewish Museum in New York. In 1976 Arthur Granick, a close personal friend and patron of Jennings Tofel, compiled a volume showcasing 63 colorplates and 129 black and white images of Tofel’s works.

Subject/Index Terms

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions: Permission to use the collection must be obtained from the YIVO Archivist.

Use Restrictions:

Permission to publish part or parts of the collection must be obtained from the YIVO Archives. For more information, contact:

YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011

email: archives@yivo.cjh.org

Acquisition Method: Received from Pearl Tofel, Jennings Tofel’s widow, in November, 1964 and January, 1965.

Separated Materials: There is no information about materials that are associated by provenance to the described materials that have been physically separated or removed.

Related Materials: The YIVO Archives have several paintings by Jennings Tofel in RG 101, the Art and Artifacts Collection and the YIVO Library has a copy of Tofel’s book, Amol iz Geven a Mentsh (Once There Was a Young Man), as well as Tofel’s book about Benjamin Kopman and a book about Tofel by Arthur Granick. In addition, there are several books by other Yiddish authors in which Tofel’s illustrations appear. His correspondence is also found in a number of other collections, including B. J. Bialostotzky RG 479, David Ignatoff RG 1338 and Shea Tenenbaum RG 722. Tofel’s artwork is held by the Museum of Modern Art, the George Krevsky Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, among others.

Preferred Citation: Published citations should take the following form:Identification of item, date (if known); Papers of Jennings Yehudah Tofel; RG 487; folder number; YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.

Box and Folder Listing

Browse by Series:

Series 1: Series I: Correspondence in English, 1912-1960,
Series 2: Series II: Correspondence in Yiddish, 1914-1957,
Series 3: Series III: Writings, 1931-1957

Series I: Correspondence in English
The correspondence in this series generally relates to Tofel’s paintings and exhibitions in various galleries, as well as condolence letters sent to his widow, Pearl Tofel, upon his death. Correspondents include Benjamin Kopman, Moses Soyer and Alfred Stieglitz.
Folders: 42
Folder 1: Auerbach, Sonia
personal letters
Folder 2: Bass, Hyala Landau
regarding Tofel's exhibitions
Folder 3: Beck, Eugenie
Folder 4: Beer-Monti, Federica
regarding Tofel's exhibitions at the Artists Gallery
Folder 5: Bluhm, Solomon
personal letters
Folder 6: Bongai, Marguerite
personal letters
Folder 7: Bourgeois Galleries

business correspondence from Stephan Bourgeois

includes clipping

Folder 8: Bourgeois, Maria-Theresa Duncan
personal letters
Folder 9: Dreier, Katherine
business correspondence regarding Tofel's works by the President of the Societe Anonyme, Inc., Museum of Modern Art
Folder 10: Galleries

regarding exhibitions and purchases of Tofel's work

includes clippings

(contains Yiddish, French)

Folder 11: Glasser, E.
personal letters
Folder 12: Godsoe, Bob
regarding Godsoe's unsuccessful attempts at getting Tofel's Journal published
Folder 13: Granick, Arthur

personal letters

undated correspondence may be earlier than 1941

Folder 14: Grokoest, Albert
personal letters by a collector of Tofel's works
Folder 15: Heilner, Irwin
regarding purchase of a painting
Folder 16: Jennings, Frank G.
includes eulogy to Tofel
Folder 17: Kefferstan, Frank
complimenting Tofel's works
Folder 18: Kopman, Benjamin
personal letters from Kopman to Tofel
Folder 19: Kopman, Benjamin
personal letters from Tofel to Kopman
Folder 20: Letters to the editors of various publications
1954, undated
on various artistic subjects
Folder 21: Loving, Pierre
regarding possible publication of Tofel's poetry
Folder 22: Lustgarten, Edgar
regarding purchase of art works
Folder 23: Newman, Jen
personal letters
Folder 24: Norman, Dorothy
letters from the editor of America and Alfred Stieglitz, A Collective Portrait, including a request for an essay by Tofel about Stieglitz
Folder 25: Otis, William B.
regarding publication of De Profundis and The Confessions of [?]
Folder 26: Ovsevitz, Rose
Tofel's sister
Folder 27: Powell, Edith W.
personal letters
Folder 28: Publishers
arranged chronologically
Folder 29: Rosenberg, James
personal letters
Folder 30: Rothenberg, Robert
includes an appreciation for a gift of a drawing given by Tofel
Folder 31: Rudel, James and Nina Bleiberg
personal letters
Folder 32: Rutberg, Betty
personal letters
Folder 33: Schwartz, Rabbi Maurice
Folder 34: Soyer, Moses
Folder 35: Silver, Abba Hillel
includes a rejection of Tofel's request for financial assistance through "interesting some of the rich Jews of our community in [his] case"
Folder 36: Slayton, Maximilian H.
personal letters
Folder 37: Smit, Leo
personal letters
Folder 38: Steinberg, Isidore
personal letters
Folder 39: Sterne, Maurice
personal letters
Folder 40: Stieglitz, Alfred
personal letters on a variety of subjects, especially artistic ones, including a letter commiserating on the plight of artists and excerpts from letters Alfred Stieglitz wrote to Tofel from 1924-1933
Folder 41: Strand, Paul
personal letters
Folder 42: Miscellaneous correspondence

Ben, 1918

Emily, undated

Etta, 1957

Series II: Correspondence in Yiddish
The correspondence in this series mainly concerns Tofel’s Yiddish writings for various publications, including Brikn (Bridges), Di Yidishe Tsaytung (The Jewish Newspaper) and Afn Shvel (On the Threshold). Correspondents include B. J. Bialostotzky, David Ignatoff, Jacob Glatstein, H. Leivick, Abraham Liessin, Mani Leib, Zalman Reisen, and Isaac Nachman Steinberg.
Folders: 32
Folder 43: Ignatoff, David
Folder 44: Abelson, Chaika
Folder 45: Bialostotzky, B.J.
Folder 46: Ben-Ari, R.
Folder 47: Blum, Eliezer (B. Alkwit)
Folder 48: Blumenfeld, L.
Folder 49: Berman, L.
Folder 50: Brikn (publication)
Folder 51: Goldberg, Abraham
Folder 52: Goldberg, Itche
Folder 53: Gelbaum, H.
Folder 54: Glatstein, Jacob
Folder 55: Warshawski, Ozer
Folder 56: Tofel, Pearl

many of the letters are from Jennings Tofel

(contains English)

Folder 57: Tenenbaum, Shea
Folder 58: Yanowsky, S.
Folder 59: Yood, Nochum
Folder 60: Landau, Zisha
Folder 61: Leivick, H.
Folder 62: Liessin, Abraham
1916, undated
Folder 63: Mani Leib
Folder 64: Miller, Louis
1923-1931, undated
Folder 65: Niger, Shmuel
Folder 66: Ferman, Bella M.
a fan letter
Folder 67: Di Yidishe Tsaytung (publication),
Folder 68: Zimmerman, Jennie
Folder 69: Kiveliavitch, I.
Folder 70: Krull, Chaim
Folder 71: Rosenfeld, Hirsch
Folder 72: Rolnick, Joseph
Folder 73: Reisen, Zalman
Folder 74: Steinberg, Isaac Nachman
Series III: Writings
This series contains Tofel’s manuscripts and published works, including autobiographical and reflective works, poems, dramatic works, and essays relating to art, his career, the artist, and creativity. The materials have been divided into three subseries.
Folders: 51
Subseries 1: Autobiographical Materials
The Yiddish and English notes found in this subseries are mainly unidentified and could have been for several of Tofel’s different autobiographical works.
Folders: 31
Folder 75: Autobiographical notes
fragments of prose possibly for one of Tofel's autobiographical works, handwritten
Folder 76: Autobiographical notes
fragments of prose possibly for one of Tofel's autobiographical works, handwritten
Folder 77: Autobiographical notes

two composition books, handwritten


Folder 78: Autobiographical notes



Folder 79: Autobiographical notes

notes, possibly for autobiography, handwritten


Folder 80: Autobiographical notes

notes, possibly for autobiography, handwritten


Folder 81: Autobiographical notes

notes and fragments, possibly for autobiography, handwritten


Folder 82: Autobiographical notes
notes and fragments, possibly for autobiography, handwritten
Folder 83: Autobiography
chapter one, the introduction, typed, 27 pgs.
Folder 84: Autobiography
notes, in 15 notebooks, handwritten
Folder 85: Autobiography

My Childhood, part one, typed, 175 pgs.

account of early family life in Poland prior to emigration

Folder 86: Autobiography
My Childhood, part two, typed, 158 pgs.
Folder 87: Eulogy for Tofel
on the back of stationary labeled Herb Kruckman, handwritten
Folder 88: The Life of a Lonely Man

autobiographical work, last page has illustrations, handwritten


Folder 89: Once There Was a Young Man
published in Yiddish as Amol iz Geven a Mentsh in Paris, 1927, typed, 99 pgs.
Folder 90: Once There Was a Young Man
typed, 54 pgs.
Folder 91: Once There Was a Young Man
typed, 54 pgs.
Folder 92: A Painter's Diary - complete manuscript
Jan. 3, 1943-Sept. 30, 1943, typed, 222 pgs.
Folder 93: A Painter's Diary - complete manuscript
Oct. 1, 1943-Mar. 31, 1944, typed, 177 pgs.
Folder 94: A Painter's Diary - complete manuscript
Apr. 1, 1944-Dec. 31, 1944, typed, 169 pgs.
Folder 95: A Painter's Diary - copy

Jan. 3, 1943-Dec. 31, 1944, typed, 518 pgs.

loose pages kept in book, cover titled "Artist's Day Book 1943-1944, 3rd carbon copy"

Folder 96: A Painter's Diary - drafts
handwritten in journal
Folder 97: A Painter's Diary - drafts
Jan. 14, 1943-Apr. 26, 1944, incomplete, typed, 129 pgs.
Folder 98: A Painter's Diary - drafts
Jan. 14, 1943-Apr. 26, 1944, incomplete, typed, 161 pgs.
Folder 99: A Painter's Diary - drafts
handwritten in journal
Folder 100: A Painter's Diary - drafts
Jan. 1, 1948-Feb. 8, 1950, handwritten
Folder 101: A Painter's Diary - drafts
Jan. 1, 1948-Feb. 8, 1950, typed, 97 pgs.
Folder 102: A Painter's Diary - drafts
handwritten in journal
Folder 103: A Painter's Diary - drafts
typed, 57 pgs.
Folder 104: A Painter's Diary - drafts
corrections to 1955 journal, typed and handwritten, pages labeled up to 89
Folder 105: Press releases
Subseries 2: Art Essays
1931-1944, undated
Folders: 9
Folder 106: About Art

notes and thoughts on art and creativity, typed and handwritten

(Yiddish, English)

Folder 107: Art essays

fragments and complete essays on art and the artist, includes The Main Springs of Art, handwritten

On the New Movement in Poetry, handwritten

Folder 108: Art essays
notes on art and painting, handwritten
Folder 109: Art essays

fragments of essays on art and creativity, handwritten and typed

A Note on Samuel Greenberg, typed

The Art Criticism of Paul Rosenfeld, typed

Folder 110: Art essays

On Studying Oneself in Order to Know Better What One is Able to Do (2 copies), typed, 13 pgs.

The Method of Painting, typed, 7 pgs.

On the Abstract in Painting, typed, 4 pgs.

Folder 111: Art essays

critique by Oscar Kokoschka, typed, undated

exhibition catalogue with handwritten critique by Alfred Stieglitz, 1931

Folder 112: Crocodiles

collections of artist's thoughts on life, handwritten, 63 pgs.


Folder 113: De Profundis

35 thoughts and impressions of the artist

typed, 8 pgs.

Folder 114: Published articles on art

Essay in Oysdruk (Expression), undated

Kunst un Geist (Art and Spirit) in Afn Shvel (On the Threshold), 1944


Subseries 3: General Writings
1916-1918, undated
Some of the poems that are in folders simply labeled “Poems” can also be found in the manuscript Light of Heaven and Other Poems .
Folders: 11
Folder 115: Berel Prager
Tofel's translation from Yiddish into English of 1918 short story by David Ignatoff, incomplete, handwritten
Folder 116: Dramatic works

The Witch (2 copies), typed, 19 pgs.

The City (2 copies), typed, 21 pges.

Folder 117: Homer's Iliad

Tofel's translation into Yiddish of Homer's Iliad, published in Velt Ayn Velt Oys: a zamelbukh, edited by D. Ignatoff, 1916, handwritten, 60 pgs., with 2 pgs. introduction

written as Ilias

Folder 118: Light of Heaven and Other Poems
incomplete, handwritten
Folder 119: Light of Heaven and Other Poems
complete, typed, 144 pgs.
Folder 120: Light of Heaven and Other Poems
incomplete, typed, 91 pgs.
Folder 121: Poems

including A Romance, undated

A Mother's Cradle Song, undated

A Letter to Abraham Harriton, 1916

typed and handwritten

Folder 122: Poems

Day and Night - a Dirge, handwritten

A Letter to the World (3 copies), typed

Out of the Possessive Nature of Man, typed

Folder 123: Poems
contains the original envelope, labeled "Early Poetry", typed
Folder 124: Poems
contains the original envelope, labeled "Old Sonnets", typed and handwritten
Folder 125: Poems
typed and handwritten

Browse by Series:

Series 1: Series I: Correspondence in English, 1912-1960,
Series 2: Series II: Correspondence in Yiddish, 1914-1957,
Series 3: Series III: Writings, 1931-1957
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