New LIFE magazine online photo archive sheds light on AAR for ’40s, ’50s

Rare glimpses of former G.I.s studying at the Academy before its post-war reopening in 1947. A 35 year-old Philip Guston (FAAR’49), cigarette in hand, taking a break from his work at the AAR. Writer Ralph Ellison (FAAR’57) pounding on a typewriter outside his Rome Prize studio.

These—and more than 125 other previously unpublished images of life at the American Academy in Rome—have just recently come to light, thanks to a fascinating initiative by LIFE magazine and Google.

1vetsgroupFormer G.I.s outside the AAR gate on Via Masina, April 1947

You may have heard about Google in November posting 2,000,000 (and eventually 10,000,000) photos from the legendary LIFE magazine archives on the web for free (and for purchase as high-res printed images).

One welcome discovery is that among the first batch of LIFE photos there are many dozens of images of Fellows and affiliates—especially artists—from the Academy, only a fraction of which ever appeared on the magazine’s pages. A gallery of thumbnails (quite varied in quality) can be seen here.

The photos fall into three groups. The first, the work of noted war photographer John Phillips, is in black and white and dates to April 1947. The focus is on the American veterans who received room and board at the Academy to enable them to remain in Italy to study. Some of these images appeared in the 14 July 1947 issue of LIFE, in a feature “Americans Live High in Rome”.

At this point, many veterans had seen their allotments under the GI Bill of Rights delayed. But for the happy few who received sponsorship by the Academy, LIFE tells the reader, “they can act, sculpt, paint and sing to their hearts’ content, and in the evenings there is always music, good talk, and dates.” (See this oral history interview with ex-GI Salvatore Scarpitta for a vivid portrait of the time.)


Left: GI painter (apparently Paul Valentino) at work in AAR studio. Right: WW II veteran (and later film actor) John Myhers (without songbook) receiving voice lessons. This latter photo appeared in LIFE 14 July 1947.

John Phillips also photographed the second group of images in February 1949, this time in both black and white and (distinctly odd) color. It does not seem that any photos from this large (100+) group ever appeared in print. Perhaps they were originally intended for the big Rome spread that graced the 1 August 1949 LIFE issue. That article included a full two pages on Rome’s take on abstract vs. representational art—but featured exclusively Italian artists.

4guston1Unpublished photo of Philip Guston (FAAR’49) in his AAR studio

5life1One of many LIFE images of Albert W. Wein (FAAR’49) with life model in his AAR studio

And we’re just over halfway through the story!



Two glimpses of Concetta Scaravaglione (FAAR’50) at work

The photographer for the third group in this LIFE online collection was James Whitmore, in May 1957. Most—but not all—of these photos found their way into the 23 December 1957 issue, in a comparative feature on AAR artists and (of all things) student priests in Rome.

8ellisonOne of several LIFE outtakes of Ralph Ellison (FAAR’57) outside his AAR studio



Two Academy scenes that did find publication in the 23 December 1957 LIFE, featuring Paul J. Kirchmer (FAAR’58), and an Italian visitor to the AAR Spring Show, taking in a sculpture by James N. Wines (FAAR’57)

From the text of the December 1957 LIFE piece on the Academy…


[Nicely put by the writer for LIFE. But let’s see what turns up when posts the other 8,000,000 images in its photo archive—Ed.]


One Response to “New LIFE magazine online photo archive sheds light on AAR for ’40s, ’50s”

  1. From LIFE archives, more unpublished glimpses of 1957 American Academy in Rome « Society of Fellows of the American Academy in Rome Weblog Says:

    […] December the Society of Fellows Weblog reported on the first batch of images that the LIFE/Google partnership produced: about 125 largely […]

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