Lot 274
  • 274

Wright, Frank Lloyd

60,000 - 80,000 USD
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  • An important collection of early letters from Wright to members of his family. 1909–1926
  • paper, ink
Group of 11 autograph letters signed and 1 autograph postcard signed ("Frank", "Father"), together 28 pages (various sizes), Nuremberg, Chicago, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, 4 November 1909–26 November 1926, to his first wife Catherine Tobin Wright, his daughter Catherine Wright (some addressed to her and her husband Kenneth Baxter), and his second wife Maude Miriam Noel Wright; 7 autograph envelopes — with 2 telegrams, one to Catherine Tobin Wright, 28 October 1926; the other to his granddaughter, actress Anne Baxter, 5 February 1947.

Catalogue Note


Catherine Tobin Wright was the architect's first wife and the mother of six of his children. Wright proved to be an unfaithful husband and negligent father.  At the time of his 2 October 1918 letter to her, she had not yet granted him a divorce and was trying to make sure the children were provided for. Wright responds to this demand with irrational anger: "I am bound to give you and the children (those not grown men and women) what you need—no more." Writing about the children themselves, he is equally harsh, "No help has ever come from one of them to me. The children are yours by blood and sympathy…. Now the children (six) show the first signs of economic independence. You tighten your thankless grip and demand more.… I am sorry for your children who have no love and no mercy." The letter ends on a damning note, "You say it was no fault of yours the past is dead—but you show in your every act good reason why it could not live. If this is what you are—If this is what I provided for in six children who hear this forward—thank God the past is dead! Could I cut it out of any future harm it may do as the offspring go their selfsame way I would. It would be better they were never born!"

Wright's second wife was sculptor Maude Miriam Noel, who lived with Wright in Tokyo while he built the Imperial Hotel. Catherine Tobin granted him a divorce in 1922 and he married Noel the next year. The marriage disintegrated in six months due to Noel's morphine addiction and vindictiveness. She did not grant Wright a divorce until 1928. In this note written sometime between the break-up of the marriage and the divorce, Wright excoriates Noel for not keeping an appointment with him and goes on to say, "I think there is nothing to say. Whatever there was in me for you is absolutely dead — even anger. If you wish to befoul the affair I cannot help it…. If you have anything to say to me that will affect an amicable separation of our affair you may write to Taliesin. If not I will take the initiative."

With his problems with Miriam Noel dragging on, he writes his first wife Catherine on 26 November 1926, telling her Noel is "this vicious 'wife, so-called,'" who is trying to tear the Wright family apart. "[D]uring the years that I was taking care of her — she would urge me to write to you about divorce, I would do so employing some harsh language which I would of course regret." For good measure, Wright describes Noel as "[t] arch-fiend of my life." Wright then comes to the reason for his letter. He feels Miriam Noel is trying to destroy his relationship with Olgivanna Hinzenberg, the woman who eventually become the third and final Mrs. Wright ("Olgivanna is good. Just as Miriam was bad."). This letter is written from the Nicollet Hotel in Minneapolis, where Wright, Olgivanna, their daughter, and Olgivanna's daughter from her first marriage were hiding from Maude Noel. It was here that Wright and Olgivanna were arrested for conspiracy to violate the Mann Act (interstate transportation of unmarried women for immoral purposes). Wright begs Catherine to meet Olgivanna and to support them in their time of turmoil. The telegram from Wright to Catherine is a plea for her to issue a public statement of support for him to help counter the negative publicity and unfavorable public opinion of his personal life, which is making it difficult for him to find work. Catherine Wright did issue a public statement in support of her ex-husband and public perceptions of the man began to change.

The remainder of the letters are written to Wright's daughter Catherine (later Mrs. Kenneth Baxter). In 1914, the young Catherine moved to New York and her father wrote to her several times offering advice and criticism. In an undated letter, he lectures her on hygiene: "A slip shod woman or one just passably clean is a horror — always — It costs money but it is the best money one spends, and it is above reproach on that score." On 15 May 1914, Wright says word has reached him in Oak Park of her life in the big city: "You have abandoned your work in the school there — as here — informing me afterward that you had done so. This method is somewhat worn." Catherine has become interested in pursuing a career in the theater and her father is not pleased: "I didn't send you to New York to continue the vaudeville 'Follies' idea of life that you seem to be drifting toward. It will leave you a discredited, cheap, spent affair before you are thirty with nothing to go on afterward except the growing disillusionment, and increasing emptiness of the woman who failed to get hold of anything in life except that element in herself that responded to the pleasure of the moment."

Wright's attitude to Catherine softens after her marriage to Kenneth Baxter. He writes to both of them from Tokyo, where he is building the Imperial Hotel, on 7 February 1921, "A cable came just at New Years wishing me a Happy New Year — signed 'Baxter' I appreciated it very much — was much touched by it in fact — It was a rather lonely Christmas and New Years this year. Christmas and New Years used to be so lively and full of everything from candy to grief — that of late years I rather dread it for its lack of little children — I hope all is going well with the business and the home. Particularly the home. Not many people nowadays have one — or have the art of making one. Sometimes I think the good old fashioned home is a thing of the past in America — but I hope you two will have one …. Once upon a time I never could strike the bottom of my physical resources — but now I find out that very grey hair and fifty three years indicate something that I will have to pay attention to — in this climate — which is the worst in the world I believe." His 1947 telegram from Arizona to granddaughter Anne Baxter reads, "Dear Anne Come stay awhile. Lots of room. Grandfather."