Carl Van Vechten

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Carl Van Vechten
Self-Portrait of Carl Van Vechten Crisco edit.jpg
Photographic self-portrait by Carl Van Vechten, taken in 1934
Born Carl Van Vechten
(1880-06-17)June 17, 1880
Cedar Rapids, Iowa, U.S.
Died December 21, 1964(1964-12-21) (aged 84)
New York City, U.S.
Education Washington High School
Alma mater University of Chicago
Occupation Photographer
Spouse(s) Anna Snyder (1907–1912),
Fania Marinoff (m. 1914–64)

Carl Van Vechten (June 17, 1880 – December 21, 1964) was an American writer and artistic photographer who was a patron of the Harlem Renaissance and the literary executor of Gertrude Stein.[1]


Born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he was the youngest child of Charles and Ada Van Vechten.[2]:14 He graduated from Washington High School in 1898,[3] and later the University of Chicago[4] in 1903. In 1906, he moved to New York City. He was hired as the assistant music critic at The New York Times.[5] His interest in opera had him take a leave of absence from the paper in 1907, to travel to Europe to explore opera.[1] 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, where he became the first American critic of modern dance. At that time, Isadora Duncan, Anna Pavlova, and Loie Fuller were performing in New York City. The marriage to Anna Snyder ended in divorce in 1912 and he wed actress Fania Marinoff in 1914.[6] Their marriage lasted until the end of his life, even while his relationships with men were an open secret.[5]

Van Vechten initially met Gertrude Stein in Paris in 1913.[7] 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of Stein's life, and at her death she appointed Van Vechten her literary executor; he helped to bring into print her unpublished writings.[2]:306

Several books of Van Vechten's essays on various subjects such as music and literature were published between 1915 and 1920. Between 1922 and 1930 Knopf published seven novels by Van Vechten, starting with Peter Whiffle: His Life and Works and ending with Parties.[8]

Van Vechten was interested in black writers and artists, and knew and promoted many of the major figures of the Harlem Renaissance, including Langston Hughes, Ethel Waters, Richard Wright, and Wallace Thurman. Van Vechten's controversial novel Nigger Heaven[4] was published in 1926. His essay "Negro Blues Singers" was published in Vanity Fair in 1926.

His older brother Ralph Van Vechten died on June 28, 1927; when Ralph's widow Fannie died in 1928, Van Vechten inherited $1 million invested in a trust fund which was unaffected by the stock market crash of 1929; the fund provided financial support for Carl and Fania.[2]:242–244[9]

In the 1930s, Van Vechten began taking portrait photographs. Among the many individuals he photographed were Alvin Ailey, Edward Albee, Judith Anderson, Marian Anderson, Antony Armstrong-Jones, Pearl Bailey, Josephine Baker, James Baldwin, Tallulah Bankhead, Theda Bara, Harry Belafonte, Barbara Bel Geddes, Thomas Hart Benton, Leonard Bernstein, Mary McLeod Bethune, Karen Blixen, Jane Bowles, Marlon Brando, James Branch Cabell, Paul Cadmus, Erskine Caldwell, Truman Capote, Bennett Cerf, Marc Chagall, Katharine Cornell, Countee Cullen, Salvador Dalí, Ossie Davis, Giorgio de Chirico, Ruby Dee, Alfred Drake, Jacob Epstein, Ella Fitzgerald, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Lynn Fontanne, Dizzy Gillespie, Martha Graham, John Hersey, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Horst P. Horst, Christopher Isherwood, Mahalia Jackson, Philip Johnson, Frida Kahlo, Eartha Kitt, Gaston Lachaise, Fernand Léger, Lotte Lenya, Sidney Lumet, Alfred Lunt, Norman Mailer, Alicia Markova, Henri Matisse, W. Somerset Maugham, Elsa Maxwell, Carson McCullers, Colin McPhee, Gian Carlo Menotti, Henry Miller, Joan Miró, Helen Morgan, Robert Morse, Ramón Novarro, Georgia O'Keeffe, Laurence Olivier, Christopher Plummer, Leontyne Price, Diego Rivera, Jerome Robbins, Paul Robeson, Cesar Romero, George Schuyler, Beverly Sills, Gertrude Stein, James Stewart, Alfred Stieglitz, Ada "Bricktop" Smith, Bessie Smith, Alice B. Toklas, Prentiss Taylor, Gloria Vanderbilt, Gore Vidal, Hugh Walpole, Evelyn Waugh, Orson Welles, Thornton Wilder, Thomas Wolfe, Anna May Wong and Richard Wright.[7][10]

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

He died at the age of 84 in New York City. Van Vechten was the subject of a 1968 biography by Bruce Kellner, Carl Van Vechten and the Irreverent Decades,[11] as well as Edward White's 2014 biography, The Tastemaker: Carl Van Vechten and the Birth of Modern America.[12]


Most of Van Vechten's papers are held by the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University. 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 slides.[13] The Library of Congress 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 collection in the Archives of American Art, a division of the Smithsonian Institution and a Van Vechten collection at Fisk University. The Museum of the City of New York's collection includes 2,174 of Carl Van Vechten's photographs. Brandeis University's department of Archives & Special Collections holds 1,689 Carl Van Vechten portraits. Van Vechten also donated materials to Fisk University to form the George Gershwin Memorial Collection of Music and Musical Literature.[2]:284


  • Music After the Great War (1915)
  • Music and Bad Manners (1916)
  • Interpreters and Interpretations (1917)
  • The Merry-Go-Round (1918)
  • The Music of Spain (1918)
  • In the Garret (1919)
  • The Tiger in the House (1920)
  • Lords of the Housetops (1921)
  • Peter Whiffle (1922)
  • The Blind Bow-Boy (1923)
  • The Tattooed Countess (1924)
  • Red (1925)
  • Firecrackers. A Realistic Novel (1925)
  • Excavations (1926)
  • Nigger Heaven (1926)
  • Spider Boy (1928)
  • Parties (1930)
  • Feathers (1930)
  • Sacred and Profane Memories (1932)



  1. ^ a b "Portraits by Carl Van Vechten – Carl Van Vechten Biography – (American Memory from the Library of Congress)". Retrieved 2010-03-09. 
  2. ^ a b c d White, Edward (2014), The Tastemaker: Carl Van Vechten and the Birth of Modern America, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, ISBN 978-0-374-20157-9 
  3. ^ "Carl Van Vechten's Camera Documented Personalities". Cedar Rapids Gazette. March 10, 1971. Retrieved November 17, 2012. 
  4. ^ a b "Carl Van Vechten Biography". December 21, 1964. Retrieved 2010-03-09. 
  5. ^ a b Sanneh, Kelefa (February 17, 2014). "White Mischief: The passions of Carl Van Vechten". The New Yorker. 
  6. ^ "Carl Van Vechten's Biography on". Retrieved July 10, 2012. 
  7. ^ a b "Carl Van Vechten: Biography from". December 21, 1964. Retrieved 2010-03-09. 
  8. ^ "Carl Van Vechten Facts, information, pictures | articles about Carl Van Vechten". Retrieved 2012-06-17. 
  9. ^ Smalls, James, The Homoerotic Photography of Carl Van Vechten: Public Face, Private Thoughts, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, p. 24, ISBN 1-59213-305-3 
  10. ^ "Prints & Photographs Online Catalog – Van Vechten Collection – Biography". Retrieved 2010-03-09. 
  11. ^ Bruce Kellner (1968) Carl Van Vechten and the Irreverent Decades, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman OK OCLC 292311
  12. ^ Edward White (2014) The Tastemaker: Carl Van Vechten and the Birth of Modern America, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York ISBN 978-0-37420-157-9
  13. ^ Living Portraits: Carl Van Vechten's Color Photographs Of African Americans, 1939-196. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University. Retrieved on 2009-07-08.


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