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KIRSTEIN ON VAN VECHTEN

Carl Van Vechten made Harlem real to me…. [He] found the natural flair, the talent for rhythm and expressiveness, the joy, the fire, the murder, and the verbal accuracy in the vernacular in the day-to-day life….To us, Harlem was far more an arrondissement of Paris than a battleground of Greater New York. It was the Harlem of Josephine Baker….open and welcoming to Miguel Covarrubias, to Muriel Draper, and to all writers and artists who recognized in its shadows the only true elegance in America….

“Carl was the first person who told me how Nijinsky danced, in such a manner and with such intensity that I often used his description later as a personal lie, pretending to have experienced this dancer, who, in real life, I had never seen. Yet, somehow, I never, at least to myself, felt myself a liar. I had merely used Carl’s eyes.”

From: Lincoln Kirstein, “Carl Van Vechten: 1880–1964,” in By With To & From: A Lincoln Kirstein Reader, ed. Nicholas Jenkins (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1991), 31–37.

Writer, editor, arts patron, and entrepreneur Lincoln Kirstein (1907–1996)—a neo-classical modernist—was the founder of the Harvard Society for Contemporary Art (a direct antecedent to the Museum of Modern Art), and co-founder—with George Balanchine—of the School of American Ballet and the New York City Ballet.

Carl Van Vechten—court photographer for the Harlem Renaissance and Manhattan’s literati and performing arts worlds throughout the 1930s, 40s, and 50s—was also a dance critic, novelist, and Gertrude Stein’s literary executor.

Top: Pavel Tchelitchew, Portrait of Lincoln Kirstein, 1937. Bottom: Walker Evans, Lincoln Kirstein, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1928.

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