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Carlton Lake:

An Inventory of His Literary File Photography Collection at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Lake, Carlton, 1915-2006
Title: Carlton Lake Literary File Photography Collection
Dates: Circa 1850s-1970s (bulk 1900-1960)
Extent: 19 boxes, 6 albums, 5 oversize boxes (2,102 items)
Call Number: Photography Collection PH-00281
Language: English
Access: Open for research. Please note: Negatives cannot be accessed without curatorial approval. Some materials may be restricted from viewing. To make an appointment or to reserve photography materials, please contact the Center's staff at

Acquisition: Purchases and gifts, 1966-2002
Processed by: Monique Daviau, Jennifer Hecker, 2005

The University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Center

Over a period of six decades, Carlton Lake gathered together what has become the most extensive collection of modern French literary research materials anywhere outside of Paris. He collected books, photographs, artwork, and other original documents in addition to manuscripts. The collection covers a broad range of French writers, artists, and musicians, such as Guillaume Apollinaire, Samuel Beckett, André Breton, Albert Camus, Céline, Jean Cocteau, Colette, Debussy, Marcel Duchamp, André Gide, Alfred Jarry, Henri Matisse, Picasso, Ravel, Jean-Paul Sartre, Erik Satie, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Paul Valéry.
Carlton Lake was born in Brockton, Massachusetts on September 7, 1915. He attended Boston University and graduated summa cum laude in 1936, followed by a Master of Arts degree from Columbia University in 1937. During World War II he served in the U.S. Marine Corps. After the war, he pursued his doctorate at New York University, but ultimately abandoned his dissertation to become a freelance writer.
From 1950 to 1965 he was Paris art critic for The Christian Science Monitor. He also contributed to a number of other American and European periodicals, such as The New Yorker, The New York Times, Town and Country, and The Atlantic Monthly, which published his interviews with such artists as Matisse, Picasso, Chagall, Henry Moore, and Giacometti. Lake also co-edited A Dictionary of Modern Painting in 1956 and wrote, edited, and translated books about Marc Chagall, Picasso, and Salvador Dali.
Carlton Lake came to the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center in 1968, ultimately serving as Curator of the French Collection, Acting Director, and Executive Curator. His impressive collection of French materials was added to the Ransom Center collections in the late 1960s. In 1976, the collection was the subject of a major exhibition, Baudelaire to Beckett, which focused international scholarly attention on its strong manuscript resources, numbered approximately 350,000 pieces. Since then, other significant exhibitions based on Carlton Lake Collection material have been devoted to Samuel Beckett (1984) and Henri Pierre Roché (1991). In addition, art and literary materials from the Collection have been loaned to many French, European, and American exhibitions held by such institutions as the Palazzo Grassi in Venice, the Grolier Club, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The Lake Collection has also been a principal source for two literary exhibitions held at the Centre Pompidou: Paris -New York, and Les Réalismes.
In 1985 Lake was decorated by the French government and inducted into L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres with the rank of Chevalier; later he became an Officier. In 1990, he published his memoirs, Confessions of a Literary Archaeologist, detailing his adventures purchasing and collecting French literary materials. In 2003, Lake retired from the Ransom Center with the title of Executive Curator Emeritus. Lake died on May 5, 2006 at the age of ninety.

Ashton, Linda. Biography of Carlton Lake. Unpublished.
Lake, Carlton. Confessions of a Literary Archaeologist. New York: New Directions, 1990.

The result of six decades of collecting French literary materials, Carlton Lake's photograph collection is a comprehensive gathering depicting important French literary and artistic figures of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The photographs are arranged in a single alphabetical sequence by the name of the person who either owned or is the subject of the photographs, and date from the 1850s through the 1970s (bulk 1900-1960), though most are undated.
Carlton Lake collected photographs from such artists as Walter Arensberg, Charles Baudelaire, Samuel Beckett, Constantin Brancusi, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Jean Cocteau, Colette, Gustave Coquiot, Paul Fort, André Gide, Sisley Huddleston, Valentine Hugo, James Joyce, Marie Laurencin, Pierre Louys, Man Ray, Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, Francis Picabia, Pablo Picasso, Maurice Ravel, Arthur Rimbaud, Henri-Pierre Roché, John Quinn, Erik Satie, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Paul Valéry, Emile Vuillermoz, and Beatrice Wood. These photographs mostly depict the artist and his or her friends and family. There are also many interior design photographs as well as pictures taken at art galleries and of art collections. Photographs of Cocteau's production of Romeo and Juliet are located here, as is Vuillermoz's collection of celebrity portraiture. A large collection of personal photographs of Henri Pierre Roché and his friends and family is also present. An Index of Subjects is available in this finding aid.
Photographers represented in this collection include Robert Capa, Robert Doisneau, Cecil Beaton, Fritz Henle, Jacques Faujour, Nadarz, Man Ray, Darthea Speyer, Ella Maillart, Claude Michaelides, Soichi Sunami, Waléry, Roger Villiers, Carl Van Vechten, André Lefebvre, Suse Byk, Georges Alliè, Constantin Brancusi, Françoise Gilot, Richard Heyd, and Emile Otto Hoppé, among others. Consult the Index of Photographers included in this finding aid for a complete listing of identified photographers.
Types of photographs included in this collection include portrait photography, family snapshots, series by renowned photographers of prominent artists, vacation photos, annual school portraits, wedding albums, custom postcards, and slides. Largely composed of black and white silver gelatin prints, the collection also includes daguerreotypes, cartes-de-visite, cabinet cards, photographic postcards, and a few photocopies of prints. Some of these photographs are duplicates and some have an accompanying negative.
Prior to 1990, photographs were routinely separated from manuscript collections during cataloging at the Ransom Center. This collection was formed in this manner and now forms part of the Literary File Collection. Most photographs accessioned since 1990 have been kept with related manuscripts. See the Carlton Lake Collection of French Manuscripts for further photographic materials collected by Carlton Lake.