March 28, 2023

Ransom Center acquires Paul and Virginia Fontaine collection

Collection shows artists’ portrayal of post-WWII Europe


The Ransom Center has a received a collection pf dozens of artworks and hundreds of photographs, guestbooks, diaries, and letters to related to artists Paul and Virginia Fontaine, a couple who moved in creative circles during the rebuilding of post-World War II Europe.

The archive was donated by the couple’s daughter Claudia Fontaine Chidester who lives in Austin. Chidester formed the private Fontaine Archive and also self-published two books on her parents’ lives and art.

Paul Fontaine (1913-1996) and Virginia Hammersmith Fontaine (1915-1991) met when both were students in Yale’s art school. They married in 1940.

After World War II, Paul worked as a U.S. Army cartographer in Paris, before the couple settled in Frankfurt where he worked as a graphic director for the Army’s regional headquarters. In 1953, he became the art director for The Stars and Stripes, the U.S. military newspaper, a position he held until his retirement in 1970 when the couple moved to Guadalajara, Mexico.

Paul remained an active artist throughout his life, exhibiting in galleries and museums in the United States, Mexico and Europe, particularly Germany,

Together the couple cultivated a circle of artistic friends in Frankfurt. Among them were Bauhaus painter and weaver Ida Kerkovius, sculptors Karl Hartung, Ewald Mataré and Emy Roeder, painters Willi Baumeister and Hans Hartung, and gallerist Hanna Bekker vom Rath.

A skilled photographer and regular diarist, Viriginia documented their lives and the archive includes materials and works relating to many of the artists the Fontaines befriended.

“Students and researchers will be able to study the growth of a distinctive talent, but one whose vision and practice was always in intimate dialogue with the artistic currents of his time,” said Ransom Center Director Stephen Enniss. “Through this archival record, researchers will be able to trace Paul Fontaine’s own engagement with his times, and his and Virginia’s shared commitment to art as a communal practice in Europe as it was recovering from the devastation of war.”


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