top of page
  • Writer's pictureLilium

Carl Van Vechten - Muses & The Beau Monde

Carl van Vechten, by Florine Stettheimer, 1922

Carl Van Vechten, born 17 June 1880, was an American writer and artistic photographer who was a patron of the Harlem Renaissance and the literary executor of Gertrude Stein. He gained fame as a writer and in his later years, he took up photography and took many portraits of notable people.

During his lifetime he wrote numerous, and often controversial books, wrote for magazines like The New York Times and had essays published in Vanity Fair but I want to focus on his photography. As an appreciator of the arts, Van Vechten was extremely intrigued by the explosion of creativity which was occurring in Harlem and he would go on to play a critical role in the Harlem Renaissance.

Van Vechten took thousands of photographs which he later donated to museums and libraries. I have had many disappointing moments when deep in research on an artist or writer where there have been only a small handful of photographs at best, where they just didn't have the money for such luxuries at the time and with some of the individuals often ending up being wiped from history all together. Van Vechten captured an entire movement on film, immortalising artists, dancers, musicians, writers and more.

Joyce Bryans by Carl Van Vechten

The Beinecke Library holds a collection of 1,884 colour Kodachrome slides, the Library of Congress has a collection of approximately 1,400 photographs, The Philadelphia Museum of Art currently holds one of the largest collection of photographs by Van Vechten in the United States. The collection began in 1949 when Van Vechten made a gift of sixty of his photographs to the museum. In 1965, Mark Lutz made a gift to the museum of over 12,000 photographs by Van Vechten from his personal collection. Included in the collection are images from extensive portrait sessions with figures of the Harlem Renaissance such as Langston Hughes, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Zora Neale Hurston, and Cab Calloway; artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Henri Matisse, Joan Miró, and Frida Kahlo; and countless other actors, musicians, and cultural figures.

To share all of his photographs would be impossible so I will share my favourites, including the pictures of the ballet dancers like the legendary Arthur Mitchell who was the first African-American dancer with the New York City Ballet. I hope that in this collection you may possibly find a new muse or at the very least someone new that interests you.

Arthur Mitchell by Carl Van Vechten



Reading Recommendations & Content Considerations

in Black and White of

photography by Carl Van Vechten Carl Van Vechten


bottom of page