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Carl van Vechten

Carl van Vechten

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Carl Van Vechten was an American writer
Writer
A writer is a person who produces literature, such as novels, short stories, plays, screenplays, poetry, or other literary art. Skilled writers are able to use language to portray ideas and images....

 and photographer who was a patron of the Harlem Renaissance
Harlem Renaissance
The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned the 1920s and 1930s. At the time, it was known as the "New Negro Movement", named after the 1925 anthology by Alain Locke...

 and the literary executor
Literary executor
A literary executor is a person with decision-making power in respect of a literary estate. According to Wills, Administration and Taxation: a practical guide "A will may appoint different executors to deal with different parts of the estate...

 of Gertrude Stein
Gertrude Stein
Gertrude Stein was an American writer, poet and art collector who spent most of her life in France.-Early life:...

.

Biography


Born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Cedar Rapids is the second largest city in Iowa and is the county seat of Linn County. The city lies on both banks of the Cedar River, north of Iowa City and east of Des Moines, the state's capital and largest city...

, he graduated from Washington High School
Washington High School (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)
Washington High School is a public high school in Cedar Rapids, Iowa-The First Washington High School:Construction began on the first Washington in 1855 on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Fifth Street S.E. It was a three-story brick building with a white belfry, and it was the largest public school...

 in 1898, and later the University of Chicago
University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was founded by the American Baptist Education Society with a donation from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and incorporated in 1890...

 in 1903. In 1906, he moved to New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

. He was hired as the assistant music critic at the New York Times. His interest in opera had him take a leave of absence
Leave of absence
Leave of absence is a term used to describe a period of time that one is to be away from his/her primary job, while maintaining the status of employee...

 from the paper in 1907, to travel to Europe to explore opera. While in England he married his long time friend from Cedar Rapids, Anna Snyder. He returned to his job at the New York Times in 1909 and then became the first American critic of modern dance
Modern dance
Modern dance is a dance form developed in the early 20th century. Although the term Modern dance has also been applied to a category of 20th Century ballroom dances, Modern dance as a term usually refers to 20th century concert dance.-Intro:...

. At that time, Isadora Duncan
Isadora Duncan
Isadora Duncan was a dancer, considered by many to be the creator of modern dance. Born in the United States, she lived in Western Europe and the Soviet Union from the age of 22 until her death at age 50. In the United States she was popular only in New York, and only later in her life...

, Anna Pavlova, and Loie Fuller
Loie Fuller
Loie Fuller Loie Fuller Loie Fuller (also Loïe Fuller; (January 15, 1862 – January 1, 1928) was a pioneer of both modern dance and theatrical lighting techniques.-Career:...

 were performing in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

. The marriage to Anna Snyder ended in divorce in 1912 and he wed actress Fania Marinoff
Fania Marinoff
Fania Marinoff was a Russian-born American actress. She played supporting and lead roles in dozens of Broadway plays between 1903 and 1937, and eight U.S. silent movies between 1914 and 1917....

 in 1914.

Several books of Van Vechten's essays on various subjects such as music and literature were published between 1915 and 1920. Between 1922
1922 in literature
The year 1922 in literature involved some significant events and new books.Under the current U.S. copyright law, all works published before January 1, 1923 with a proper copyright notice entered the public domain no later than 75 years from the date of the copyright...

 and 1930
1930 in literature
The year 1930 in literature involved some significant events and new books.-Events:*January 6 - The first literary character licensing agreement is signed by A. A. Milne, granting Stephen Slesinger U.S...

 Knopf published seven novels by Van Vechten, starting with Peter Whiffle: His Life and Works and ending with Parties.

Van Vechten was interested in black writers and artists, and knew and promoted many of the major figures of the Harlem Renaissance
Harlem Renaissance
The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned the 1920s and 1930s. At the time, it was known as the "New Negro Movement", named after the 1925 anthology by Alain Locke...

, including Langston Hughes
Langston Hughes
James Mercer Langston Hughes was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist. He was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form jazz poetry. Hughes is best known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance...

, Richard Wright
Richard Wright (author)
Richard Nathaniel Wright was an African-American author of sometimes controversial novels, short stories, poems, and non-fiction. Much of his literature concerns racial themes, especially those involving the plight of African-Americans during the late 19th to mid 20th centuries...

, and Wallace Thurman
Wallace Thurman
Wallace Henry Thurman was an American novelist during the Harlem Renaissance. He is best known for his novel The Blacker the Berry: A Novel of Negro Life, which explores discrimination among black people based on skin color.-Early life:...

. Van Vechten's controversial novel Nigger Heaven
Nigger Heaven
Nigger Heaven is a 1926 novel written by Carl Van Vechten, set during the Harlem Renaissance in the United States in the 1920s. The book and its title have been controversial since its publication....

was published in 1926
1926 in literature
The year 1926 in literature involved some significant events and new books.-Events:*Bread Loaf Writers' Conference is founded in Middlebury, Vermont....

. His essay "Negro Blues Singers" was published in Vanity Fair
Vanity Fair (magazine)
Vanity Fair is a magazine of pop culture, fashion, and current affairs published by Condé Nast. The present Vanity Fair has been published since 1983 and there have been editions for four European countries as well as the U.S. edition. This revived the title which had ceased publication in 1935...

in 1926.

In the 1930s, Van Vechten began taking portrait photographs. Among the many individuals he photographed were Judith Anderson
Judith Anderson
Dame Judith Anderson, AC, DBE was an Australian-born American-based actress of stage, film and television. She won two Emmy Awards and a Tony Award and was also nominated for a Grammy Award and an Academy Award.-Early life:...

, James Baldwin
James Baldwin (writer)
James Arthur Baldwin was an American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic.Baldwin's essays, for instance "Notes of a Native Son" , explore palpable yet unspoken intricacies of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in Western societies, most notably in mid-20th century America,...

, Tallulah Bankhead
Tallulah Bankhead
Tallulah Brockman Bankhead was an award-winning American actress of the stage and screen, talk-show host, and bonne vivante...

, Barbara Bel Geddes
Barbara Bel Geddes
Barbara Bel Geddes was an American actress, artist and children's author. She is best known for her role in the television drama series Dallas as matriarch Eleanor "Miss Ellie" Ewing. Bel Geddes also starred in the original Broadway production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in the role of Maggie...

, Jane Bowles
Jane Bowles
Jane Bowles, born Jane Sydney Auer , was an American writer and playwright.-Early life:Born into a Jewish family in New York, Jane Bowles spent her childhood in Woodmere, New York, on Long Island. She developed tuberculous arthritis of the knee as a teenager and her mother took her to Switzerland...

, Marlon Brando
Marlon Brando
Marlon Brando, Jr. was an American movie star and political activist. "Unchallenged as the most important actor in modern American Cinema" according to the St...

, Paul Cadmus
Paul Cadmus
Paul Cadmus was an American artist. He is best known for his paintings and drawings of nude male figures. His works combined elements of eroticism and social critique to produce a style often called magic realism...

, Erskine Caldwell
Erskine Caldwell
Erskine Preston Caldwell was an American author. His writings about poverty, racism and social problems in his native South like the novels Tobacco Road and God's Little Acre won him critical acclaim, but they also made him controversial among fellow Southerners of the time who felt he was...

, Truman Capote
Truman Capote
Truman Streckfus Persons , known as Truman Capote , was an American author, many of whose short stories, novels, plays, and nonfiction are recognized literary classics, including the novella Breakfast at Tiffany's and the true crime novel In Cold Blood , which he labeled a "nonfiction novel." At...

, Marc Chagall
Marc Chagall
Marc Chagall Art critic Robert Hughes referred to Chagall as "the quintessential Jewish artist of the twentieth century."According to art historian Michael J...

, Salvador Dalí
Salvador Dalí
Salvador Domènec Felip Jacint Dalí i Domènech, Marquis de Púbol , commonly known as Salvador Dalí , was a prominent Spanish Catalan surrealist painter born in Figueres,Spain....

, Ruby Dee
Ruby Dee
Ruby Dee is an American actress, poet, playwright, screenwriter, journalist, and activist, perhaps best known for co-starring in the film A Raisin in the Sun and the film American Gangster for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.-Early years:Dee was born Ruby...

, Christopher Plummer
Christopher Plummer
Arthur Christopher Orne Plummer, CC is a Canadian theatre, film and television actor. He made his film debut in 1957's Stage Struck, and notable early film performances include Night of the Generals, The Return of the Pink Panther and The Man Who Would Be King.In a career that spans over five...

, Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Jane Fitzgerald , also known as the "First Lady of Song" and "Lady Ella," was an American jazz and song vocalist...

, F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was an American author of novels and short stories, whose works are the paradigm writings of the Jazz Age, a term he coined himself. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century. Fitzgerald is considered a member of the "Lost...

, Lynn Fontanne
Lynn Fontanne
Lynn Fontanne was a British actress and major stage star in the United States for over 40 years. She teamed with her husband Alfred Lunt.She lived in the United States for more than 60 years but never relinquished her British citizenship. Lunt and Fontanne shared a special Tony Award in 1970...

, John Hersey
John Hersey
John Richard Hersey was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American writer and journalist considered one of the earliest practitioners of the so-called New Journalism, in which storytelling devices of the novel are fused with non-fiction reportage...

, Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday was an American jazz singer and songwriter. Nicknamed "Lady Day" by her friend and musical partner Lester Young, Holiday had a seminal influence on jazz and pop singing...

, Horst P. Horst
Horst P. Horst
Horst Paul Albert Bohrmann who chose to be known as Horst P. Horst was a German-American fashion photographer.-Early life:...

, Mahalia Jackson
Mahalia Jackson
Mahalia Jackson – January 27, 1972) was an African-American gospel singer. Possessing a powerful contralto voice, she was referred to as "The Queen of Gospel"...

, Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo de Rivera was a Mexican painter, born in Coyoacán, and perhaps best known for her self-portraits....

, Sidney Lumet
Sidney Lumet
Sidney Lumet was an American director, producer and screenwriter with over 50 films to his credit. He was nominated for the Academy Award as Best Director for 12 Angry Men , Dog Day Afternoon , Network and The Verdict...

, Alfred Lunt
Alfred Lunt
Alfred Lunt was an American stage director and actor, often identified for a long-time professional partnership with his wife, actress Lynn Fontanne...

, Norman Mailer
Norman Mailer
Norman Kingsley Mailer was an American novelist, journalist, essayist, poet, playwright, screenwriter, and film director.Along with Truman Capote, Joan Didion, Hunter S...

, Alicia Markova
Alicia Markova
Dame Alicia Markova, DBE, DMus, was an English ballerina and a choreographer, director and teacher of classical ballet. Most noted for her career with Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes and touring internationally, she was widely considered to be one of the greatest classical ballet dancers of the...

, Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse was a French artist, known for his use of colour and his fluid and original draughtsmanship. He was a draughtsman, printmaker, and sculptor, but is known primarily as a painter...

, W. Somerset Maugham
W. Somerset Maugham
William Somerset Maugham , CH was an English playwright, novelist and short story writer. He was among the most popular writers of his era and, reputedly, the highest paid author during the 1930s.-Childhood and education:...

, Henry Miller
Henry Miller
Henry Valentine Miller was an American novelist and painter. He was known for breaking with existing literary forms and developing a new sort of 'novel' that is a mixture of novel, autobiography, social criticism, philosophical reflection, surrealist free association, and mysticism, one that is...

, Georgia O'Keeffe
Georgia O'Keeffe
Georgia Totto O'Keeffe was an American artist.Born near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, O'Keeffe first came to the attention of the New York art community in 1916, several decades before women had gained access to art training in America’s colleges and universities, and before any of its women artists...

, Sir Laurence Olivier, Leontyne Price
Leontyne Price
Mary Violet Leontyne Price is an American soprano. Born and raised in the Deep South, she rose to international acclaim in the 1950s and 1960s, and was one of the first African Americans to become a leading artist at the Metropolitan Opera.One critic characterized Price's voice as "vibrant",...

, Diego Rivera
Diego Rivera
Diego María de la Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodríguez was a prominent Mexican painter born in Guanajuato, Guanajuato, an active communist, and husband of Frida Kahlo . His large wall works in fresco helped establish the Mexican Mural Movement in...

, Paul Robeson, Cesar Romero
Cesar Romero
Cesar Julio Romero, Jr. was an American film and television actor who was active in film, radio, and television for almost sixty years...

, George Schuyler
George Schuyler
George Samuel Schuyler , was an African American author, journalist and social commentator known for his conservative views.-Early life:George Samuel Schuyler was born in Providence, Rhode Island to George Francis and Eliza Jane Schuyler...

, Beverly Sills
Beverly Sills
Beverly Sills was an American operatic soprano whose peak career was between the 1950s and 1970s. In her prime she was the only real rival to Joan Sutherland as the leading bel canto stylist...

, Gertrude Stein
Gertrude Stein
Gertrude Stein was an American writer, poet and art collector who spent most of her life in France.-Early life:...

, James Stewart
James Stewart (actor)
James Maitland Stewart was an American film and stage actor, known for his distinctive voice and his everyman persona. Over the course of his career, he starred in many films widely considered classics and was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning one in competition and receiving one Lifetime...

, Alfred Stieglitz
Alfred Stieglitz
Alfred Stieglitz was an American photographer and modern art promoter who was instrumental over his fifty-year career in making photography an accepted art form...

, Gaston Lachaise
Gaston Lachaise
Gaston Lachaise was an American sculptor of French birth, active in the early 20th century. A native of Paris, he was most noted for his female nudes such as Standing Woman.-Early life and education:...

, Bessie Smith
Bessie Smith
Bessie Smith was an American blues singer.Sometimes referred to as The Empress of the Blues, Smith was the most popular female blues singer of the 1920s and 1930s...

, Prentiss Taylor
Prentiss Taylor
Prentiss Taylor was an American illustrator, lithographer, and painter. He was a strong figure in the Harlem Renaissance. Among his many friends from that era is Langston Hughes, whom Taylor illustrated many of his publications. Also among his close friends was the photographer Carl Van Vechten...

, Gore Vidal
Gore Vidal
Gore Vidal is an American author, playwright, essayist, screenwriter, and political activist. His third novel, The City and the Pillar , outraged mainstream critics as one of the first major American novels to feature unambiguous homosexuality...

, Evelyn Waugh
Evelyn Waugh
Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh , known as Evelyn Waugh, was an English writer of novels, travel books and biographies. He was also a prolific journalist and reviewer...

, Orson Welles
Orson Welles
George Orson Welles , best known as Orson Welles, was an American film director, actor, theatre director, screenwriter, and producer, who worked extensively in film, theatre, television and radio...

, and Anna May Wong
Anna May Wong
Anna May Wong was an American actress, the first Chinese American movie star, and the first Asian American to become an international star...

.

Van Vechten initially met Gertrude Stein
Gertrude Stein
Gertrude Stein was an American writer, poet and art collector who spent most of her life in France.-Early life:...

 in Paris
Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

 in 1913. They continued corresponding for the remainder of Stein's life, and at her death she appointed Van Vechten her literary executor; he helped to bring into print her unpublished writings.

After the 1930s, Van Vechten published little writing, though he continued to write letters to many correspondents.

Although Van Vechten was married to Fania Marinoff
Fania Marinoff
Fania Marinoff was a Russian-born American actress. She played supporting and lead roles in dozens of Broadway plays between 1903 and 1937, and eight U.S. silent movies between 1914 and 1917....

 until the end of his life, he was either homosexual or bisexual. Some of his papers were kept under seal for twenty-five years after his death, and when they were examined after that time, they were found to include scrapbooks of photographs and clippings related to homosexuality
Homosexuality
Homosexuality is romantic or sexual attraction or behavior between members of the same sex or gender. As a sexual orientation, homosexuality refers to "an enduring pattern of or disposition to experience sexual, affectional, or romantic attractions" primarily or exclusively to people of the same...

.

He died at the age of eighty-four in New York City. Van Vechten was the subject of a 1968 biography by Bruce Kellner, Carl Van Vechten and the Irreverent Decades.

Archive


Most of Van Vechten's papers are held by the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Yale University's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library was a 1963 gift of the Beinecke family. The building was designed by architect Gordon Bunshaft of the firm of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, and is the largest building in the world reserved exclusively for the preservation of rare books...

 at Yale University
Yale University
Yale University is a private, Ivy League university located in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Founded in 1701 in the Colony of Connecticut, the university is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States...

. The Beinecke Library also holds a collection titled "Living Portraits: Carl Van Vechten's Color Photographs Of African Americans, 1939-1964", a collection of 1,884 color Kodachrome
Kodachrome
Kodachrome is the trademarked brand name of a type of color reversal film that was manufactured by Eastman Kodak from 1935 to 2009.-Background:...

 slides. The Library of Congress
Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is the research library of the United States Congress, de facto national library of the United States, and the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States. Located in three buildings in Washington, D.C., it is the largest library in the world by shelf space and...

 acquired its collection of approximately 1,400 photographs in 1966 from Saul Mauriber. There is also a collection of his photos in the Prentiss Taylor
Prentiss Taylor
Prentiss Taylor was an American illustrator, lithographer, and painter. He was a strong figure in the Harlem Renaissance. Among his many friends from that era is Langston Hughes, whom Taylor illustrated many of his publications. Also among his close friends was the photographer Carl Van Vechten...

 collection in the Archive of American Art, a division of the Smithsonian Institution
Smithsonian Institution
The Smithsonian Institution is an educational and research institute and associated museum complex, administered and funded by the government of the United States and by funds from its endowment, contributions, and profits from its retail operations, concessions, licensing activities, and magazines...

 and a Van Vechten collection at Fisk University
Fisk University
Fisk University is an historically black university founded in 1866 in Nashville, Tennessee, U.S. The world-famous Fisk Jubilee Singers started as a group of students who performed to earn enough money to save the school at a critical time of financial shortages. They toured to raise funds to...

. The Museum of the City of New York
Museum of the City of New York
The Museum of the City of New York is an art gallery and history museum founded in 1923 to present the history of New York City, USA and its people...

's collection includes 2,174 of Carl Van Vechten's photographs.

See also


Wikimedia Commons collection of Van Vechten's photographs in the Public Domain

External links