Lydia Winston Malbin Papers

The Lydia Winston Malbin Papers contain files relating to individual works of art in the Winston Malbin collection in addition to letters, photographs, scrapbooks and other ephemera, primarily dating between 1938 and 1988, which document the life and collecting activities of Lydia Winston Malbin. 

Based for much of her life in a suburb of Detroit, Lydia Winston Malbin (1897-1989) assembled one of her era’s foremost collections of European modern art. While best known for its strengths in early Italian futurism, her collection also contained significant holdings in movements including cubism, dada, constructivism, and CoBrA. Her approach to collecting was distinguished by her steadfast commitment to the artists in her collection, demonstrated by the longstanding personal relationships she forged with many of them and by her tireless efforts to share and promote their work with the public.

The daughter of famed industrial architect Albert Kahn, Malbin became a driving force in Detroit’s art world at mid-century. In an effort to bring European modernism and abstraction to the region, she organized groundbreaking exhibitions and events including, in 1942, the city’s first exhibition of abstract art. Through exhibition catalogues and frequent visits to New York galleries, she became increasingly interested in the work of the early Italian futurists. Beginning in the early 1950s, she and her first husband Harry Winston traveled throughout Europe to meet with artists and their surviving family members. She forged friendships with many of these individuals, including Jean Arp, Luce and Elica Balla, Raffaela Callegari-Boccioni, Benedetta Marinetti, Antoine Pevsner, and Gino Severini. She also maintained formative relationships with prominent dealers, curators, and museum directors, including Alfred Barr, Jr., Rose Fried, Peggy Guggenheim, and Alfred Stieglitz. 

The Collection  

Maintaining an archive was a central component of Malbin’s work as a collector. She meticulously assembled extensive files on the artworks in her collection, along with correspondence and other materials related to her activities in the art world. Passionate about sharing these resources, she routinely opened her archives to scholars, hosted university courses, and lent material to exhibitions. In the last years of her life she began to assemble the most significant of her archival holdings into a series of scrapbooks, which she called an “autobiography” in documents. The bulk of the collection was donated to the Yale University Art Gallery by the Malbin family in 1991 with additional material being donated in subsequent years. The entire collection was transferred to the Beinecke Library in 2007. Additions to the collection were processed by Beinecke Library staff in 2007-2008.  

The collection consists primarily of files relating to individual works of art in the Winston Malbin art collection, in addition to correspondence with artists, curators, dealers, museums and galleries; photographs; documentation regarding gifts and loans; material relating to Lydia Winston Malbin’s collecting activities and related projects; a small amount of papers of Malbin’s father, Albert Kahn; scrapbooks; and card files. The papers provide extensive documentation of a major twentieth-century collection which is no more and of individual works within the collection; as well as insight into some of the leading artists of the twentieth century, and particularly of Italian Futurists, such as Umberto Boccioni. They also illustrate in detail the practice of art collecting as carried out by Malbin, one of the great American practitioners of that vocation.


Files, letters, photographs, and ephemera documenting Malbin’s art collection and activities in the art world.