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John Doctoroff papers

Identifier: Midwest-MS-Doctoroff

Scope and Content of the Collection

Correspondence, scrapbooks, clippings, exhibition programs, and prints relating to John Doctoroff’s career as a portrait artist.

Correspondence from Doctoroff to his wife, Rose, while he was away from the studio in 1927-1929 and 1941 discusses clients' reception of his portraits, painting Herbert Hoover, his health problems, and the activities of his daughters. Correspondence from Doctoroff to his clients discusses arrangements for portraits, reproductions, and framing; his schedule; his painting process; and his exhibitions. A 1950 letter to Albin Polášek discusses the Doctoroff family’s move into an apartment leased by Polášek and Doctoroff’s anxiety over the lease. An undated, outgoing letter from Rose describes Edwin Markham and her husband’s painting of Markham.

Correspondence regarding Doctoroff includes copies of 1929-1963 introduction letters, recommendations of his work, and exhibition announcements.

The bulk of the collection is correspondence addressed to Doctoroff. Incoming correspondence discusses his patrons’ opinions of Doctoroff’s portraits, their experiences sitting for the portraits, arrangements, and portrait unveiling events. Other correspondence includes invitations to events; death notices; receipt of donations by Doctoroff; and arrangements for exhibitions, including art exhibitions at the Illinois State Fair. Items of note include a typescript copy of the 1924 letter from R. A. Gunn to Doctoroff announcing that the Republican National Committee had accepted Doctoroff’s campaign portraits of Calvin Coolidge and Charles Dawes. Doctoroff wrote notes, doodled, and sketched on much of the incoming correspondence.

The collection also contains scrapbook pages with newspaper clippings and programs. The newspaper clippings document interviews of Doctoroff about his work and philosophy of art, reviews and announcements of his exhibitions, and his subjects. The bulk of the clippings cover his recently completed portraits and include short biographies on the sitter, descriptions of their mannerisms while Doctoroff painted them, and details on portrait unveiling events. Programs on the scrapbook pages document two Doctoroff exhibitions in 1935 and 1940, and a 1941 unveiling event for a portrait of Eugene Stuart Gilmore. Other noteworthy items in the scrapbook pages include a 1941 telegram to Doctoroff from his wife, Rose, about the reception of the portrait of Eugene Stuart Gilmore and a handwritten timeline of Doctoroff’s accomplishments created as notes for his 1940 submission to Who’s Who in Chicago. Separate items are two copies of publications with portraits by Doctoroff on the cover: Abraham Lincoln on the cover of the 1951 Official Program of the 55th Annual Lincoln Day Dinner, Chicago, Illinois, and Mrs. A. Rollin Staley on the July 1955 cover of Townsfolk magazine.

Seven prints of 1924-1927 portrait drawings are signed by the sitters and Doctoroff. Five of the portraits are addressed to the artist. The subjects include Clarence Darrow, Mary L. Dutton, Isaac Miller Hamilton, Jacob W. Loeb, and Julius Rosenwald.


  • Creation: 1924-1967



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The John Doctoroff papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The John Doctoroff papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections at

Biography of John Doctoroff

Chicago-based portrait artist.

John Doctoroff was born to Russian Jewish parents Benjamin Doctoroff and Rose Lehman on July 19, 1893 in New York City. He studied art at the Cooper Union Institute of New York from 1909 to 1911. He lived in San Antonio, Texas, for four years after art school before moving to Dallas, Texas. He married Rose Kaufman on November 30, 1916. They had two children, Ruth (1918-1990) and Marjorie (1923-2006). He identified as Jewish, Republican, and a Mason. He was a member of the Rotary Club of Chicago and the Standard Club. He enjoyed golfing.

Doctoroff worked as an illustrator from 1912 to 1924. He earned a national reputation as a portrait painter in 1924 when he won a contest for the best campaign portrait of Calvin Coolidge, the Republican Party’s candidate for United States president. He moved to Chicago in 1924 and opened a studio. Thereafter, he specialized in portraits. He traveled frequently to paint sitters in their homes while his wife managed the studio. He attended the Chicago Art Institute in 1925. He lived in Europe from 1929 to 1930 to study portraiture. Doctoroff painted living and deceased American elites, including politicians, businessmen, generals, philanthropists, socialites, and heiresses. Many of his sitters were prominent Jews. The Republican National Committee repeatedly commissioned portraits of the party’s presidential and vice presidential candidates. Doctoroff exhibited his portraits in Illinois, Texas, Florida, and Maryland.

Rose Doctoroff died in Chicago on May 25, 1956. John Doctoroff died in Chicago on June 28, 1970.


2.8 Linear Feet (2 boxes and 1 oversize box)


Correspondence, scrapbooks, clippings, exhibition programs, and prints relating to Chicago-based portrait artist John Doctoroff.


Papers are organized in the following series:

Series 1: Correspondence, 1924-1967, undated
Boxes 1-2
Series 2: Scrapbook Pages and Clippings, 1926-1961, undated
Box 3 [oversize]
Series 3: Signed Prints of Portraits, 1924-1927, undated
Box 3 [oversize]

Collection Stack Location

1 14 4, 1 16 5


Unknown. Additions, gift of Liz Stoughton, 2023.

Processed by

Joy Austra, approximately 2010-2012, and Hannah O’Daniel McCallon, 2018.


Inventory of the John Doctoroff papers, 1924-1967
Hannah O'Daniel McCallon
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States