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Carl Van Vechten

HARLEM RENAISSANCE MAN: Photography and printed material from the estate of this iconic Harlem Renaissance photographer and poet

"I've photographed everybody from Matisse to Isamu Noguchi."
- Carl Van Vechten

Carl Van Vechten (June 17, 1880 – December 21, 1964), the celebrated American writer and photographer, was the literary executer of Gertrude Stein and a key figure of the Harlem Renaissance movement. Several books of his essays on a range subjects including music and literature were published between 1915 and 1920. Esteemed publishing house Knopf published seven novels by Van Vechten between 1922 and 1930.

Van Vechten was especially interested in african-american writers and artists, knowing and promoting many of the major figures of what would be hailed as the Harlem Renaissance, including Langston Hughes and Ethel Waters. 

The acclaimed author and civil rights activist James Weldon Johnson stated "...Van Vechten had taken the material (Harlem) had offered him and achieved the most revealing, significant and powerful novel based exclusively on Negro life yet written. The author pays colored people the rare tribute of writing about them as people rather than as puppets." 


It wasn't until the 1930's however that Van Vechten would establish his second talent. He began taking portrait photographs as a hobby, capturing iconic images of all the key members of the worlds he lived in; art, theater, music, and literature. Either the subject would sit for the photo or re-create, in costume, a specific role.  What started out as a diversion from his literary career became a serious enterprise for Van Vechten.  He astutely realized that his work was an important documentation of literary and theatrical history. He never took commissions and he never sold his photographs. He would grant permission to publish them, but had strict requirements to do so. By the fall of 1942, Van Vechten’s notoriety as a photographer was profound.  Many of his portraits appeared in books and magazines, and it was not long before he became famous for his work. He became a prominent fixture in 20th century photography collections with his work being included in such institutions as The Library of Congress, The Museum of The City of New York,  The Smithsonian Institution, and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.

Though he continued to write letters and post cards to many correspondents, Van Vechten published very little of his post 1930's writings. He died at the age of eighty-four in New York City and is the subject of a 1968 biography by Bruce Kellner, 'Carl Van Vechten and the Irreverent Decades.'

About Our Collection:

JG Autographs Inc., is honored to offer the Carl Van Vechten Curated Collection, boasting a wealth of original vintage silver gelatin photographs, including rare oversized versions,  most often printed by the artist, marked and dated in his hand as well as with a credit stamp.  Notable subjects include Georgia O'Keeffe, Dave Brubeck, James Baldwin, Man Ray, Tallulah Bankhead, Barbara Bel Geddes, Jane Bowles, Marlon Brando, Pearl Bailey, Ana May Wong, and Orson Welles. Also featured in the collection are hand printed 'real photo post cards,' letters, and personal correspondences between the prolific artist and his who's who of famous friends and aquaintances.

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