Lincoln Edward Kirstein (May 4, 1907 – January 5, 1996) was an American writer, impresario, art connoisseur, and cultural figure in New York City. According to the New York Times, he was "an expert in many fields."
Kirstein was born in Rochester, New York, the son of Rose (née Stein) and Louis E. Kirstein. The grandson of a successful Rochester clothing manufacturer, he grew up in a wealthy Jewish Bostonian family and attended Berkshire School, graduating in 1926; his father was president of Filene's Department Store when Lincoln entered Harvard.
In 1927, while an undergraduate (he graduated in 1930), he was annoyed that the literary magazine The Harvard Advocate would not accept his work. With a friend Varian Fry, who later married his sister Eileen, he convinced his father to finance their own literary quarterly, the Hound & Horn. Moving in 1930 to New York, the quarterly became an important publication in the artistic world and lasted until 1934 when Lincoln decided to fund George Balanchine instead.
His interest in Balanchine and ballet started when he saw Balanchine's Apollo performed by the Ballets Russes. He became determined to get Balanchine to America. Together with Edward Warburg (a classmate from Harvard), they started the School of American Ballet in Hartford, Connecticut, in October 1933. In 1934, the studio moved to the fourth floor of a building at Madison Avenue and 59th Street in New York City. Warburg's father invited the group of students from the evening class to perform at a private party. The ballet they did was "Serenade", the first major ballet choreographed by Balanchine in America. Just months later Kirstein and Warburg founded, together with Balanchine and Vladimir Dimitriew, the American Ballet.
This became the resident company of the Metropolitan Opera. That arrangement was unsatisfactory because the Opera would not allow Balanchine and Kirstein artistic freedom.
World War II
His career was interrupted by the United States' entry into World War II. After enlisting in 1943, before going overseas he started working on a project gathering and documenting soldier art that would eventually become the exhibit and book Artists Under Fire. In the spring of 1944 he was sent to London for the U. S. Arts and Monuments Commission; after a month he was transferred to the unit in France that came to be known as the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) section. Soon after being promoted to Private First Class in January 1945 (in Patton's Third Army), his unit moved to Germany and he was personally involved with retrieving artworks around Munich and in the salt mines at Altaussee. He wrote the article "The Quest for the Golden Lamb" which was published in Town & Country in September 1945, the same month he was discharged from the Army.
Kirstein wrote in a 1959 monograph titled "What Ballet Is All About," "Our Western ballet is a clear if complex blending of human anatomy, solid geometry and acrobatics offered as a symbolic demonstration of manners—the morality of consideration for one human being moving in time with another."
In a conversation with the poet Vernon Scannell in 1976 he said that "he regarded dancers not as artists but as acrobats'; their skills were, he maintained, entirely physical and he felt his involvement with the dance was a salutary escape from the cerebral and sedentary life into a world that was closer to that of the athlete than the artist."
Friendships and personal life
Kirstein's eclectic interests, ambition and keen interest in high culture, funded by independent means, drew a large circle of friends who stimulated creativity in many of the arts. These included: Glenway Wescott, Monroe Wheeler, George Platt Lynes, Jared French, Bernard Perlin, Pavel Tchelitchev, Katherine Anne Porter, Barbara Harrison, Gertrude Stein, Jensen Yow, Jonathan Tichenor, Donald Windham, Cecil Beaton, Jean Cocteau, W. H. Auden, George Tooker, Margaret French Cresson, Walker Evans, Sergei Eisenstein and more.
Kirstein kept diaries beginning in summer camp in 1919 until the late 1930s, and Martin Duberman's 2007 biography The Worlds of Lincoln Kirstein makes use of them and numerous letters. Kirstein enjoyed sex with men—Harvard undergraduates, sailors, street boys, casual encounters in the showers at the 63rd St YMCA. Longer affairs are described with dancer Pete Martinez, artist Dan Maloney, and conservator Jensen Yow among others, as well as relationships that were physically unrealized. Casual sex frequently grew into long-term friendship.
He also slept with women and in 1941 married Fidelma Cadmus, the sister of the artist Paul Cadmus. He and his wife enjoyed an amicable if not stressful relationship until her death in 1991. Some of his boyfriends lived with them in their East 19th Street house; "Fidelma was enormously fond of most of them." The New York art world considered his bisexuality an "open secret," although he did not publicly acknowledge his sexual orientation until 1982.
Kirstein was the primary patron of Fidelma's brother, the artist Paul Cadmus, buying many of his paintings and subsidizing his living expenses. Cadmus had difficulty selling his work through galleries because of the erotically charged depictions of working and middle class men, which provoked controversy.
In his later years, Kirstein struggled with bipolar disorder- mania, depression, and paranoia. He destroyed the studio of friend Dan Maloney, and sometimes was in a straitjacket for weeks at a psychiatric hospital. His illness did not generally affect his professional creativity until the end of his life.
English critic Clement Crisp wrote:—
- "He was one of those rare talents who touch the entire artistic life of their time. Ballet, film, literature, theatre, painting, sculpture, photography all occupied his attention."
Kirstein helped organize a 1959 American tour for musicians and dancers from the Japanese Imperial Household Agency. At that time, Japanese Imperial court music gagaku had only rarely been performed outside the Imperial Music Pavilion in Tokyo at some of the great Japanese shrines.
Kirstein commissioned and helped to fund the physical home of the New York City Ballet: the New York State Theater building at Lincoln Center, designed in 1964 by architect Philip Johnson (1906–2005). Despite its conservative modernist exterior, the glittery red and gold interior recalls the imaginative and lavish backdrops of the Ballets Russes. He served as the general director of the ballet company from 1948 to 1989.
Kirstein's and Balanchine's collaboration lasted until the latter's death in 1983. On March 26, 1984, President Ronald Reagan presented Kirstein with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contributions to the arts.
Kirstein was also a serious collector. Soon after its opening at Lincoln Center, he contributed a significant amount of historic dance materials to the Jerome Robbins Dance Division at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Before his death in 1996, Kirstein also donated his personal papers, artworks, and other materials related to the history of dance and his life in the arts to the Division.
1929 – "A Marriage Message for Mary Frost & James Maybon from Lincoln Kirstein", Paris, (May 15, 1929), Boston privately published by Lincoln Kirstein
1932 – "Flesh Is Heir: An Historical Romance", a novel, New York: Brewer, Warren & Putnam
1938 – "Photographs of America: Walker Evans", in: Walker Evans: American Photographs, New York: Museum of Modern Art
1939 – "Ballet Alphabet: A Primer for Laymen", New York: Kamin Publishers
1943 – "American Battle Painting: 1776–1918", Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution/New York: Museum of Modern Art
1947 – "The Drawings of Pavel Tchelitchew" and his last book, published in 1994, was "Tchelitchev," a full-scale study that used a variant spelling of the artist's name.
1952 – "The Classic Ballet"
1959 – "What Ballet Is All About: An American Glossary" with photographs by Martha Swope, Brooklyn, N.Y.: Dance Perspectives
1967 – "Whitehouse Happening", a play about President Lincoln's assassination
1967 – "The Dance Encyclopedia" by Anatole Chujoy, P.W. Manchester and Lincoln Kirsten (April 15, 1967)
1969 – "W. Eugene Smith: Success or Failure, Art or History", in: W. Eugene Smith: His Photographs and Notes, New York: Aperture
1970 – "Dance: A Short History of Classic Theatrical Dancing", (August 24, 1970)
1970 – "Movement and Metaphor: Four Centuries of Ballet", New York and Washington: Praeger Publishers
1973 – "Elie Nadelman", New York: Eakins Press
1973 – "The New York City Ballet" with photographs by Martha Swope and George Platt Lynes
1975 – "Nijinsky Dancing", (November 17, 1975)
1978 – "Thirty Years: Lincoln Kirstein's The New York City Ballet: expanded to include the years 1973–1978, in celebration of the company's thirtieth anniversary"
1984 – "Paul Cadmus", New York: Imago Imprint
1984 – "Fifty Ballet Masterworks: From the 16th Century to the 20th Century", (August 1, 1984)
1987 – "Quarry: A Collection in Lieu of Memoirs", Pasadena, California: Twelvetrees Press
1987 – "The Poems of Lincoln Kirsten"
1989 – "Memorial to a Marriage", (October 1989)
1991 – "By with to and from: A Lincoln Kirstein Reader" edited by Nicholas Jenkins, New York, N.Y.: Farrar Straus and Giroux
1992 – "Puss in Boots" by Lincoln Kirstein and Alain Vaes (March 1992)
1994 – "Tchelitchev", Santa Fe, New Mexico: Twelvetrees Press
1994 – "Mosaic: Memoirs", New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (May 1, 1994)
- Presidential Medal of Freedom, US.
- Handel Medallion, NYC highest cultural award.
- Brandeis University Notable Achievement Award.
- National Medal of Arts, US, 1985.
- Royal Society of Arts, Benjamin Franklin Medal, UK, 1981.
- National Society of Arts and Letters, National Gold Medal of Merit Award, US.
- National Museum of Dance Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame inductee, 1987.
- The Saint of Bleecker Street [Original, Play, Drama, Play with music] Production Supervisor December 27, 1954 – April 2, 1955
- Misalliance [Revival, Play, Comedy] New York City Drama Company managing director March 6, 1953 – June 27, 1953
- The Ballet Caravan – Billy the Kid choreographed by Eugene Loring – May 24, 1939 – [unknown]
- Filling Station [Original, ballet, One Act] choreographed by Lew Christensen, premiered January 6, 1938, Hartford Connecticut
- Dance: A Short History of Classic Theatrical Dancing (1935), New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons
- Ballet Alphabet: A Primer for Laymen (1939), New York: Kamin
- The Latin-American Collection of the Museum of Modern Art (1943), New York: The Museum of Modern Art
- The Classic Ballet: Basic Technique and Terminology (with Muriel Stuart, 1952), New York: Knopf
- Movement & Metaphor: Four Centuries of Ballet (1970), New York: Praeger
- The New York City Ballet (1973), New York: Knopf. ISBN 0-394-46652-7
- Rhymes of a Pfc (rev. ed. 1980), Boston: David R. Godine. ISBN 0-87923-330-3
- Ballet, Bias and Belief: Three Pamphlets Collected and Other Dance Writings (1983), New York: Dance Horizons. ISBN 0-87127-133-8
- Quarry: A Collection in Lieu of Memoirs (1986), Pasadena, Calif.: Twelvetrees. ISBN 0-942642-27-9
- The Poems of Lincoln Kirstein (1987), New York: Atheneum. ISBN 0-689-11923-2
- Tchelitchev (1994), Santa Fe, N.M.: Twelvetrees. ISBN 0-942642-40-6
- Lincoln Kirstein's complete bibliography: Lincoln Kirstein: A Bibliography of Published Writings, 1922–1996 (2007), New York: Eakins Press Foundation
(available online at www.lincolnkirstein.org)
- Roberts Commission
- Nazi Plunder
- Rescuing Da Vinci
- The Rape of Europa
- Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program
- Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art
- The Monuments Men by Robert Edsel
- Jack Anderson (January 6, 1996). "Lincoln Kirstein, City Ballet Co-Founder, Dies". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-02-09. "Lincoln Kirstein, a co-founder of the New York City Ballet and a visionary who never wavered in his belief that ballet could flourish in America..."
- Monuments Men Foundation: Kuhn, Monuments Men> Kirstein, Pfc. Lincoln E.
- Scannell, Vernon A Proper Gentleman , Robson Books, London 1977 ISBN 0903895862
- The Kirstein Century
- Lincoln Kirstein Official Website
- American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas. (1946). Report. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. OCLC 185537904
- Dirda, Michael. "The man who did more for the arts in America than anyone else," Washington Post. April 22, 2007.
- Hume, Patrick. Martin Duberman's Review of The Worlds of Lincoln Kirstein," ArtsEdior. June 4, 2007.
- Kimmelman, Michael. "Kirstein's Lust for Art and Artists," New York Times. May 11, 2007.
- Leddick, David (2000). Intimate Companions: A Triography of George Platt Lynes, Paul Cadmus, Lincoln Kirstein, and Their Circle. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-20898-7.
- Duberman, Martin (2007). The Worlds of Lincoln Kirstein. New York: Knopf. ISBN 1-4000-4132-5.
- Nicholas, Lynn H. (1995). The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Teasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War. New York: Vintage Books. 10-ISBN 0-679-75686-8; 13-ISBN 978-0-679-75686-6; OCLC 32531154
- Scannell, Vernon (1976). Not Without Glory: Poets of the Second World War. London: Woburn Press. ISBN 0-7130-0094-5
- Scannell, Vernon (1977). A Proper Gentleman. London: Robson Books. ISBN 0-903895-86-2
- Lincoln Kirstein Bibliography
- Lincoln Kirstein papers, circa 1913–1994 Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
- Lincoln Kirstein papers, 1951–1999 Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
- Letters from Lincoln Kirstein to Donald Ritchie, 1957–1964 Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
- Letters to Lincoln Kirstein, 1947–1976 Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
- PBS (Oregon Public Broadcasting): "The Rape of Europa.", 2006 film, aired November 24, 2008
- Monuments Men Foundation: Kirstein, Pfc. Lincoln E.
- Obituary: Anderson, Jack. "Lincoln Kirstein, City Ballet Co-Founder, Dies," New York Times. January 6, 1996.