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Patronage II: The Western World since 1900  
 
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Among other visual artists, Kirstein also fostered the photography of George Platt Lynes (1907-1955). From 1934 onwards, Kirstein commissioned Lynes to create an ongoing photographic record of the dancers and productions of the American Ballet Company and, subsequently, of the New York City Ballet. In many cases, Lynes worked closely with Balanchine to create original tableaux that would convey the intentions of various ballets without replicating specific performances. In his photographs of Balanchine's Yankee Clipper (1937), Lynes conveyed the eroticism often associated with sailors in gay culture. The photographs of Balanchine's Orpheus (1950) are even more daring; these depict the virtually nude lead dancers (Nicholas Magallanes and Francisco Monicon) in sensuous caresses.

Prominent Queer Patrons: Carl Van Vechten

During much of the twentieth century, European-American patrons seldom extended support to minority artists. Virtually unique among white, gay male patrons of the pre-Stonewall era, Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964) fostered the endeavors of African-American writers, musicians, and artists. Yet, Van Vechten remains a controversial figure, at least in part because many of his writings characterize African-American life in exotic terms.

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Van Vechten's interest in African-American culture probably was encouraged by his father, who was one of the founders of a school for African-American children in rural Mississippi. While studying at the University of Chicago (1899-1903), Van Vechten became fascinated with ragtime and other African-American music. Moving to New York in 1906, he began writing regular columns on music, literature, and other arts for the New York Times, Vanity Fair, and other publications. After 1922, when he published his first novel, Peter Whiffle: His Life and Works, he wrote criticism on a more sporadic basis in order to devote more time to his own literary endeavors.

Although homosexual, he was married twice. In 1907, while on leave from the Times in England, Van Vechten married Anna Snyder, a childhood friend from Cedar Rapids; they were divorced in 1912. In 1914, he married Russian actress Fania Marinoff (1890-1971), and they remained together for the rest of Van Vechten's life. Their home quickly became a popular meeting place for prominent black and white writers, artists, intellectuals, and patrons.

Vechten found freedom from the constraints of mainstream white society in Harlem, where he frequently was seen in the company of handsome young African-American men. In the controversial novel Nigger Heaven (1926), he depicted Harlem as a place of sexual pleasure; both the title and content of the book aroused the anger of W. E. B. DuBois (1868-1963) and other African-American social and cultural leaders.

In the early 1930s, Miguel Covarrubias (1904-1957), a colleague at Vanity Fair, introduced him to the 35mm. Leica camera, and he began photographing his extensive circle of acquaintances, including many prominent figures of the Harlem Renaissance. The archive of nearly 1,400 photographic portraits by him at the Library of Congress constitutes a visual record of prominent figures in American cultural life from the early 1930s through the early 1960s.

Although the significance of Van Vechten's artistic patronage is often noted, his interactions with visual artists still have not been analyzed in the same detail as his relations with writers and musicians. Especially during the 1920s and early 1930s, Van Vechten encouraged his wealthy white friends to purchase works by African-American artists, and he helped to fund exhibitions of African-American art in New York. During the 1940s and 1950s, as Chairman of the Fine Arts Commission of Fisk University, Nashville, a historically African-American institution, he helped Fisk secure the Alfred Stieglitz Collection of modern art. At his death, he left Fisk a substantial endowment, which still helps fund its arts programs.

Among the artists whose work Van Vechten personally favored and collected extensively was the closeted gay artist James Richmond Barthé (1901-1989). Although utilizing traditional techniques, Barthé explored complex contemporary political and racial issues in his statues. Encouraged by Van Vechten and other homosexual patrons, Barthé infused many of his depictions of African-American men with profound homoerotic feeling.

Richard Bruce Nugent (1906-1987)--the only emphatically "out" gay artist and writer associated with the Harlem Renaissance--was photographed by Van Vechten, who showed him gazing at a bust of Antinous. However, Van Vechten never supported Nugent's artistic endeavors.

Utilizing a modernist style, Nugent fused diverse cultural traditions in his homoerotic illustrations. He provoked the anger of DuBois and other moralistic African-American cultural leaders because of his very frank representations of black gay sexuality. Numerous scholars have suggested that the explicitness of Nugent's sexual imagery disconcerted Van Vechten and prevented him from offering patronage. However, this explanation overlooks the graphic sexuality of Nigger Heaven and other works by Van Vechten himself. In a statement indicating the problems and limitations of patronage, Nugent stated that he never received support from Van Vechten simply because he refused to pay homage to him.

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