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The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Carl Van Vechten Papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1939-1960
Creator: Van Vechten, Carl (1880-1961)
Extent: 1.00 linear foot.
Collection Number: MSC0715
Repository: University of Iowa Special Collections
Summary: 23 photographs of Doris Julian, Stephen Van Ophuigsen, Coleman Dowell, Jose Quintero and others; 16 photograph postcards including Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas; 75 photographs of celebrities (lacking no. 18); several drafts and related correspondence for Gertrude Stein: An Epilogue.

Alternate Extent Statement: Photographs in Boxes 1 and 2.

Access: This collection is open for research. Bruce Kellner administers copyright to the photographs.

Use: Copyright restrictions may apply; please consult Special Collections staff for further information.


Preferred Citation: Carl Van Vechten Papers, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa.

Repository: University of Iowa Special Collections
Address: Special Collections Department
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City, IA 52242
Phone: 319-335-5921
Curator: Greg Prickman

Carl Van Vechten was born on June 17, 1880, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. At an early age, he developed an interest in music and theatre that he found hard to satisfy in his hometown. He left Iowa in 1899 to attend the University of Chicago. In Chicago he was able to explore art, music, and opera. He became interested in writing and contributed to the University of Chicago Weekly.
After college, Van Vechten's first job was with the Chicago American. In addition to covering a broad range of topics, he was occasionally asked to provide photographs to go along with his copy.
In 1906, when Van Vechten moved to New York City, he was hired as the assistant music critic at the New York Times. His interest in opera prompted him to take a leave of absence from the Times  in 1907, to examine this art form in Europe. While in England he married his long-time friend from Cedar Rapids, Ann Snyder. The marriage would end in divorce in 1912.
Van Vechten returned to his job at the New York Times in 1909 and soon became the first American critic of modern dance. At that time, Isadora Duncan, Anna Pavlova, and Loie Fuller were performing in New York.
In 1914, Van Vechten married actress Fania Marinoff. He left his full time newspaper job in the spring, but he continued to write, and published several collections of his essays relating to music, ballet, and cats. Peter Whiffle: His Life and Works, Van Vechten's first novel, was published in 1922.
Van Vechten became very interested in promoting black artists and writers. He was an avid collector of ephemera and books pertaining to black arts and letters, and was a frequent visitor to Harlem. These experiences provided the inspiration for his controversial novel, Nigger Heaven, which was published in 1926. In the future, he would photograph many of the creative people he met in Harlem.
In the early 1930s Miguel Covarrubias introduced Van Vechten to the 35 mm Leica camera. He began photographing his large circle of friends and acquaintances. His earlier career as a writer and his wife's experience as an actress provided him with access to both fledgling artists and established cultural figures of the time. Some of his subjects from this period include F. Scott Fitzgerald, Langston Hughes, Alfred A. Knopf, Bessie Smith, and Gertrude Stein.
Van Vechten's portraits are frequently busts or half-length poses in front of bold backdrops. Dancers were usually photographed on stage. Van Vechten did his own darkroom work, but frequently used an assistant to help set up lights for portrait sittings.
During World War II Van Vechten volunteered at the Stage Door Canteen. Top-notch entertainers frequently performed there for servicemen.
Van Vechten's photographs have been widely exhibited and frequently used as illustrations in books and magazines. He felt very strongly that his collections of manuscripts, letters, clippings, programs, and photographs, many pertaining to creative blacks, should be available for scholarly research. With this in mind, he presented various parts of his collections to several university libraries during his lifetime. Van Vechten remained active, writing and photographing up until his death in 1961.
(This biography was copied from the Library of Congress web site on Van Vechten.

This collection is comprised mainly of 8 x 10 photographs. There are drafts for one essay on Gertrude Stein. some photocopied correspondence, pamphlet material about Van Vechten and the typescript of a stage adaptation of "The Tattooed Countess.
Andrews, Clarence. "Iowa Literary History 1971 -- 1991." Books at Iowa, April 1992.

Carney, Thomas L. and Joyce Crawford. "The Torch Press: A Preliminary History." Books at Iowa, November, 1974.

Kellner, Bruce. "Baby Woojums in Iowa." Books at Iowa, April, 1977.

Kuhl, Nancy. Extravagant Crowd : Carl Van Vechten's Portraits of Women. New Haven, Conn. : Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, 2003. Online exhibit available at

Library of Congress, American Memory Project. Creative Americans: Portraits by Carl Van Vechten.

Sigmund, Jay. Manuscript Collection, The University of Iowa Libraries. Papers of Jay Sigmund: MsC697

Browse by Series:
Series 1: GENERAL
Series 3: ADDENDUM, MAY 2003
Series 4: ADDENDUM, AUGUST 2003

  • Series 1: GENERAL
  • Box 1:
  • Biographical and bibliographic information
  • Clippings
  • Concert Program "An Evening with George Gershwin." With the Cedar Rapids Symphony conducted by Richard Williams. "An event of Carl Van Vechten - Cultural Contributions on a Century 1880 -1980."
  • "Gertrude Stein: An Epilogue"
  • Correspondence - 1939-1960
  • Typescript, with revisions - 1946
  • First draft
  • Second draft
  • Third draft
  • "Memorial to Miss Gertrude Stein." New York Post, December 9 - 1946
  • Miscellaneous
    Contains notes, bookplates, book jackets, programs, postcards and other miscellaneous materials
  • Index to the photographs
  • Box 1:
  • Albee, Edward
  • d'Alvarez, Marguerite
  • Anderson, Judith
  • Barchardy, Dan
  • Bankhead, Tallulah
  • Belafonte, Harry
  • Blixen, Karen (Isak Dinesen)
  • Boatright, McHenry
  • Brando, Marlon
  • Bruskin, Mark
  • Calder, Alexander
  • Calder, Alexander
    1 smaller photograph
  • Carroll, Diahann
  • Cather, Willa
  • Channing, Carol
  • Cooper, Gladys
  • David, Christopher
  • Dobbs, Mattiwilda
  • Dowell, Coleman
  • Dullea, Keir
  • Fini, Leonor
  • Fontanne, Lynn
  • Ford, Ruth
  • Garden, Mary
  • Domingue-Gassieau, Pierre
  • Gish, Lillian
  • Graham, Martha and Bertram Ross
  • Gross, Chiam
  • Himes, Chester
  • Holiday, Billie
  • Jackson, Mahalia
  • [Jacob, Max?]
  • Johnson, Philip
  • Jones, James Earl
  • Jones, LeRoi
  • Julian, Doris
    5 folders
  • Julian, Doris and her son Stephen Van Ophuigsen
    6 folders
  • Kaye, Nora
  • Kellner, Bruce
  • King, Alexander and Margie
  • Lenya, Lotte
  • Madden, Donald
  • Markova, Alicia
  • Martin, Nan
  • Mencken, H.L.
  • Mercer, Mabel
  • Mancion, Francesco
  • Moore, Grace
  • Morgan, Helen
  • Morse, Robert
  • Mostel, Zero
  • Olaf, Pierre
  • O'Neill, Carlotta
  • O'Neill, Eugene
  • Ortega, Domingo
  • Plummer, Christopher
  • Price, Leontyne
  • Quintero, Jose
    2 folders
  • Rawlings, Marjorie Kinnan
  • Sands, Diana
  • Post card, 17 Belley Grande Rue
  • Shankari Musicians
  • Shirley, George
  • Short, Bobby
  • Stage Door Canteen
  • Stanley, Kim
  • Stein, Gertrude
  • Stein, Gertrude
    5 smaller photographs
  • Studio at 27 Rue de Fleurus
  • Svendson, Clara
  • Szell, George
  • Taylor, Paul
  • Tchelichew, Pavel
  • Toklas, Alice B.
  • Toklas, Alice B.
    3 smaller photographs
  • Turnbull, Andrew
  • Unidentified man
  • Unidentified man
  • Unidentified man
  • Van Dyke, Henry
  • Van Ophuigsen, Stephen
    6 folders
  • Van Vechten, Carl
    3 folders
  • Van Vechten, Carl
    Photograph of bust
  • Van Vechten and Coleman Dowell
  • Van Vechten, Carl and Ethel Waters
  • Verdy, Violette
  • Verret, Shirley
  • Waters, Ethel
  • Waugh, Evelyn
  • Williams, John
  • Wolfe, Thomas
  • Series 3: ADDENDUM, MAY 2003
    Gift of Kirkwood Community College
  • Box 2:
  • Photographs
  • Ailey, Alvin
  • Albee, Edward
    2 folders
  • Allen, Betty
  • Bailey, Pearl
  • Baldwin, James
  • Cather, Willa
  • DuBois, W.E.B.
  • Field, Betty
  • Gish, Lillian
  • Graham, Martha and Bertram
  • Himes, Chester
  • Kellner, Bruce
  • Kellner, Bruce and Carl Van Vechten
  • Lenya, Lottee
  • Madden, Donald
  • Markova, Alicia
  • Martin, Mary
  • Moncion, Francisco
  • Mostel, Zero
  • Motley, Willard
  • O'Neill, Eugene
  • Petry, Ann L.
  • Price, Leontyne
  • Sands, Diana
  • Schuyler, Phillippa Duke
  • Stanley, Kim
  • Still, William Grant
  • Szell, George
  • Thomson, Virgil
  • Warfield, William
  • Waugh, Evelyn
  • Williams, John A.
  • Wolfe, Thomas
  • Series 4: ADDENDUM, AUGUST 2003
    Gift of Kirkwood Community College
  • Box 3:
  • Articles
  • McFee, William. Book review of Parties, by Carl Van Vechten. New York: Alfred A. Knopf - 1930
  • Correspondence
  • Kellner, Bruce to Maude Jahncke - 1986
    Incorporates Van Vechten letter to Ada Amanda Fitch Van Vechten, Grand Rapids, MI, 1892. In memory of Van Vechten's 106th birthday.
  • Van Vechten, Carl, to George Dutton to arrange a meeting. August 13 - 1962
  • Pamphlets
  • "80 Writers Whose Books and Letters Have Been Given Over the Past 20 Years to the Yale University Library" by Carl Van Vechten. New Haven: Yale University Library - 1960
  • "CVV 101" observing the 101st birthday anniversary of Carl Van Vechten - 1981
  • "Memoirs" by Fania Marinoff. Lancaster, PA: Bruce Kellner - 1987
  • "My Favorite Authors." Bruce Kellner - 1985
  • Schuyler, George S. "The Van Vechten Revolution". Reprint, Phylon, the Atlanta University Review of Race and Culture, 1950.
  • Typescript
  • Seery, M. Jean. "Carl Van Vechten's Role in the Negro Renaissance." - 1982
  • Series 5: ADDENDUM, DECEMBER 2003
  • Box 3:
  • Typescript
  • "The Tattooed Countess"
    A stage reading from the novel by Carl Van Vechten. Adapted by James V. Hatch.