New-York Historical Society logo

Guide to the Robert L. Benney Research Collection
1933-1978, undated (bulk, 1942-1944)
 PR 250

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-3400

New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Kelly McAnnaney

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on January 18, 2023
Description is in English.

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Benney, Robert L., 1904-
Title: Robert L. Benney research collection
Dates [inclusive]: 1933-1978, undated (bulk, 1942-1944)
Abstract: Robert Benney, a successful commercial artist and illustrator gained recognition as a war artist-correspondent during World War II.
Quantity: 4.85 Linear feet (5 boxes)
Location: Materials in this collection may be stored offsite. For more information on making arrangements to consult them, please visit
Language: The documents in this collection are in English.
Call Phrase: PR 250

Return to Top »

Biographical Note

Robert Benney, painter and illustrator, was born in 1904 in Romania. (It appears that he often listed his place of birth as New York City, but his vaccination record, found in this collection, as well as his obituary, printed in the New York Times, list his birthplace as Romania.) He was raised in New York City, and studied art at Cooper Union from 1921 to 1925 and the National Academy of Art from 1928 to 1932. At the age of nineteen, while still in art school, Benney opened his own studio creating illustrations for New York newspapers and magazines. In the late 1930s, he received commissions from several Hollywood studios, working to document theater productions and stage personalities.

Although a successful commercial illustrator and painter, Benney is most well known for his work as a war artist-correspondent during World War II. In 1943 he was hired by Abbott Laboratories to document the Naval Aviation Department's activities in the Pacific. He was commissioned again by Abbott in 1944 to illustrate the Army Medical Department in the South Pacific, where he covered the invasion of Saipan.

After WWII, Benney continued to work as an artist-correspondent. He traveled to North Africa in 1954 to illustrate the activities of the United States Air Force. Then in 1968, Benney again offered his skills as an artist, serving with the Marines and covering their activities in Vietnam.

Between his travels with the military, Benney taught art at Pratt Institute from 1949 to 1952 and at the Dutchess County College from 1964 to 1973. He also continued working as a commercial artist. He was commissioned by large corporations such as the American Sugar Refining Company, Standard Oil Company and Western Electric.

Robert Benney passed away in Boston in June 2001. His work can be found in the permanent collections of many important institutions including the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian Institute, both in Washington, D.C., the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts in Dallas, TX and The Society of Illustrators in New York City, NY as well as in all branches of the Armed Services.

Return to Top »

Scope and Contents

The Robert L. Benney Research Collection spans the period from 1940-1978 and includes correspondence to and from Benney, personal papers and records, reproductions of artwork, ephemera, newspaper and magazine clippings and scrapbooks.


The collection is organized in five series:

Series I. Correspondence
Series II. Personal Papers
Series III. Printed Matter
Series IV. Photographs
Series V. Scrapbooks

Return to Top »

Access Points

Subject Names

  • Benney, Robert L., 1904-
  • Colby, Elliot

Document Type

  • Clippings (information artifacts)
  • Correspondence.
  • Ephemera.
  • Offset lithography.
  • Photographic prints.

Subject Topics

  • Illustrators -- New York (State) -- New York.
  • Saipan, Battle of, Northern Mariana Islands, 1944.
  • War artists -- United States.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Participation, American

Subject Places

  • New York (N.Y.)
  • Saipan (Northern Mariana Islands)

Return to Top »

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

Materials in this collection may be stored offsite. For more information on making arrangements to consult them, please visit

Use Restrictions

Taking images of documents from the library collections for reference purposes by using hand-held cameras and in accordance with the library's photography guidelines is encouraged. As an alternative, patrons may request up to 20 images per day from staff.

Application to use images from this collection for publication should be made in writing to: Department of Rights and Reproductions, The New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024-5194, Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 282.

Copyrights and other proprietary rights may subsist in individuals and entities other than the New-York Historical Society, in which case the patron is responsible for securing permission from those parties. For fuller information about rights and reproductions from N-YHS visit:

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as: Robert L. Benney Research Collection, PR 250, Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections, The New-York Historical Society.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Robert L. Benney, 1978.

Return to Top »

Container List

Series I: Correspondence

Scope and Contents note

Series I. Correspondence contains letters dating from 1942-1975 and includes personal, professional and official military correspondence. The letters have been divided into two subseries, Personal and Official, and arranged by date.

Subseries I. Personal includes both personal and professional correspondence. Professional letters include those from The American Sugar Refining Company, Abbott Laboratories, Associated American Artists, New York Times, and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. Personal letters include correspondence from soldiers and officials he met abroad including Elliot Colby, M.D., Richard Holtz, M.D., and Lt. William Hewitt.

Subseries II. Official consists of letters from military sources regarding his trips to the Pacific during World War II. Included are letters containing Benney's orders, transportation instructions and permits for departure as well as letters to military officials regarding his credentials. Also found are memos of instruction including Field Sanitation,  Medical and sanitary data on Micronesia, and  What to do if a Man is Shot During Combat. Located at the end of this subseries are a group of envelops without attached correspondence, one of which has a small sketch on its reverse.

Subseries I: Personal

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Offsite-Box: 1 Folder : 1 From Benney
1942-1969, undated
Offsite-Box: 1 Folder : 2 To Benney
Offsite-Box: 1 Folder : 3 To Benney
Offsite-Box: 1 Folder : 4 To Benney
Offsite-Box: 1 Folder : 5 To Mrs. Benney

Subseries II. Official

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Offsite-Box: 1 Folder : 6 To Benney - Orders
Offsite-Box: 1 Folder : 7 To Others - re. Benney's Credentials
1942, 1944
Offsite-Box: 1 Folder : 8 Misc. Memos
1943-1944, undated
Offsite-Box: 1 Folder : 9 Envelopes - Empty
1942-1945, undated

Return to Top »

Series II: Personal Papers

Scope and Contents note

Series II. Personal Papers contains biographical information, lists and inventories of artwork, handwritten notes, and ephemera. Of note are two diaries: Benney's datebook from 1944, mainly recording addresses, lists and travel expenses and a diary of military doctor Col. Elliot Colby, dated May 28 through November 5, [1944], recording events in Saipan. Other material includes Benney's vaccination record, his blood donor card, invitations and an Overseas Edition for Armed Forces of The New Yorker, from July 22, 1944.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Offsite-Box: 1 Folder : 10 Miscellaneous
1943-1954, undated
Offsite-Box: 1 Folder : 11 Artwork - Locations, Inventories, Notes
1947, undated
Offsite-Box: 1 Folder : 12 Biographical Information
1953-1977, undated
Offsite-Box: 1 Folder : 13 Elliot Colby Diary
Offsite-Box: 1 Folder : 14 Ephemera
1942-1944, undated
Offsite-Box: 1 Folder : 15 Interview with Benney - Transcription
Offsite-Box: 1 Folder : 16 Notes
Offsite-Box: 1 Folder : 17 Teaching Material

Return to Top »

Series III: Printed Matter

Scope and Contents note

Series III. Printed Matter is comprised of a variety of publicity and includes printed examples of Benney's work. Newspaper and magazine articles illustrated by Benney as well as articles about Benney and his work can be found in this series. Publications include Pageant,  Argosy,  The American Legion,  Our Navy and  The Saturday Evening Post. Also included are exhibition announcements and catalogs from shows that featured his work.

Much of this material is oversized and has been separated. Included are several reproductions of his sketches, some of which are signed. One flat file folder contains several halftone prints of various paintings and illustrations, including an image of the Domino Sugar Factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, drawn for the American Sugar Refining Company.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Offsite-Box: 2 Folder : 18 Miscellaneous
Offsite-Box: 2 Folder : 19-21 Exhibit Announcements, Catalogs, Guides

General note

See also: Oversize Material

1940-1978, undated
Offsite-Box: 2 Folder : 22 Illustration - Annual Reports
Offsite-Box: 2 Folder : 23-24 Illustration - Magazines

General note

See also: Oversize Material

1950-1960, 1972
Offsite-Box: 2 Folder : 25 Magazine Articles - Full Magazines & Clippings

General note

See also: Oversize Material

1943-1960, undated
Offsite-Box: 2 Folder : 26 Newspaper Clippings

General note

See also: Oversize Material

1933, 1940-1972, undated

Return to Top »

Series IV: Photographs

Scope and Contents note

Series IV. Photographs includes images of Benney taken primarily during his travels in Saipan, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Many of these photographs were taken while he was working as a war artist-correspondent in the Pacific during World War II and show Benney, in uniform, drawing soldiers in hospitals and in the field. Another series of portraits show Benney in Cuba while on assignment for The American Sugar Refining Company, posed with sugarcane cutters.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Offsite-Box: 2 Folder : 27 Military
1944, undated
Offsite-Box: 2 Folder : 28 Cuba
Offsite-Box: 2 Folder : 29 Miscellaneous
1945, undated

Return to Top »

Series V: Scrapbooks

Scope and Contents note

Series V. Scrapbooks contain loose pages with attached newspaper and magazine clippings, letters, photographs, book covers and other examples of Benney's work. Scrapbooks are sorted by content, and are annotated with handwritten notes, which Benney added to describe various items. One group of pages contains letters from military offices and business contacts, most regarding commissioned artwork. Scrapbook pages labeled "Illustration" contain clippings of magazine work, covers of novels and other examples of commercial work. "Printed Matter" pages include some of the same type of clippings, but also include ephemera, invitations, photographs and other pieces not related to commercial illustration. Many of these pages are brittle and must be handled with care. There are photographic reproductions of some of these scrapbook pages, filed at the end of the series.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Offsite-Box: 3 Folder : 30-31 Art Reproductions
Offsite-Box: 3 Folder : 32 Correspondence
Offsite-Box: 3 Folder : 33-35 Illustration
Offsite-Box: 4 Folder : 36-38 Illustration, cont.
Offsite-Box: 4 Folder : 39-41 Printed Matter
Offsite-Box: 4 Folder : 42 Clippings - reproduced pages

Return to Top »

From Series III: Printed Matter

Oversize Material, Boxed

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Offsite-Box: 5 Folder : 43 Artwork - Reproductions of sketches
Offsite-Box: 5 Folder : 44 Exhibit Catalogs
Offsite-Box: 5 Folder : 45 Illustration - Magazines
Offsite-Box: 5 Folder : 46-47 Illustration - Matted Clippings
Offsite-Box: 5 Folder : 48 Magazine Articles - Full magazines
Offsite-Box: 5 Folder : 49 Magazine Articles - Clippings
Offsite-Box: 5 Folder : 50 Newspaper Clippings

Oversize Material, Flat File

Container 1     Title Date
Folder: OS-1 Oversize Prints

Return to Top »

Return to Top »