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literature

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Wheeler, Monroe (1899-1988)  
 
page: 1  2  

Lynes, with encouragement from Wheeler, pursued photography as a career, and later achieved worldwide fame as a fashion and portrait photographer, whose works were distinguished by their dramatic lighting and stylized settings. His most lasting achievement, however, was his series of intensely homoerotic dance images and male nudes, although very few of these photographs were exhibited publicly during his lifetime.

By 1930, Wheeler, Wescott, and Lynes had settled in Paris, where Wheeler and the wealthy American heiress Barbara Harrison (1904-1977) established Harrison of Paris, a book publishing enterprise with the goal of producing high quality limited editions to be sold at moderate prices. Although Wescott was not an official partner, he provided literary advice and helped Wheeler select manuscripts for publication.

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Between October 1930 and December 1934, Harrison of Paris published thirteen books, all of which exhibited, as the journalist Waverly Root noted for the Paris Tribune, "uniform good taste, intelligence, and artistic sensibility."

The partnership's first venture was the publication of Shakespeare's poem Venus and Adonis (1930), with a cover design by Wescott. That first year the enterprise also published, among other works, the first English translation of Thomas Mann's autobiography, A Sketch of My Life, and the first edition of Wescott's novella The Babe's Bed, which was dedicated to Harrison.

Other notable works published by Harrison of Paris include The Fables of Aesop (1931), with Sir Roger L'Estrange's Elizabethan translation complemented by Alexander Calder's spare line drawings; Constance Garnett's translation of Dostoevsky's A Gentle Spirit: A Fantastic Story (1931), with original drawings by the gay French illustrator and designer Christian Bérard; Wheeler's own A Typographical Commonplace-Book (1932); and Wescott's A Calendar of Saints for Unbelievers (1933), illustrated by the Russian-born gay artist Pavel Tchelitchew.

In 1935, after her marriage to Wescott's younger brother Lloyd, Barbara Harrison returned to the United States. Wheeler, Wescott, and Lynes soon followed. The trio set up households in Manhattan, in a series of apartments, as well as in New Jersey, with their weekend retreat, an old colonial house dubbed Stone-blossom, on a five-hundred-acre farm owned by Harrison.

Wheeler and Harrison had expected to continue operations of their publishing venture in New York, but given the prohibitive costs and the lack of adequate facilities, reluctantly agreed to dissolve Harrison of Paris in 1935.

Later that same year Wheeler began his long-term association with the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, when he joined the staff as a guest curator and a member of the Library Committee. His passion for and knowledge of books continued at MoMA, and in 1939 Wheeler was appointed Director of Publications. A year later he was named the museum's first Director of Exhibitions, a post he held for the next twenty-seven years.

Under his leadership, MoMA became known for the quality of its books. Wheeler personally supervised the publication of over 300 works, both monographs and exhibition catalogues, and won acclaim for their scholarship, layout, and design.

With Wheeler's prestigious museum appointment and Wescott's reputation as a novelist, the two men became a well-known gay couple in New York City's artistic community. The writers W. H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, Marianne Moore, and Somerset Maugham, and the artists Paul Cadmus and Jared French were among their close acquaintances.

However, their relationship suffered a great disappointment in 1943 when Lynes ended his seventeen-year relationship with the two men. As Wescott wrote in a letter to his brother Lloyd and sister-in-law Barbara, dated February 26, 1943, "This is a milestone date in our lives: this afternoon Monroe received a letter from George to say he is leaving us." Despite the end of their complicated romantic relationship, the three men continued to remain friendly until Lynes's death in 1955.

In 1951, in recognition of his work in bringing French artists to the attention of American audiences, Wheeler was made a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor by the government of France.

Wheeler remained actively involved with the Museum of Modern Art, even after his retirement in 1967, by serving as a member of the International Council, which supports the Museum's international and education programs. In early 1988, the Museum dedicated a reading room in the Prints and Illustrated Books Galleries to Wheeler.

Wheeler's affiliations outside of the Museum included serving as a Trustee and First Vice President of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, a Trustee of the Katherine Anne Porter Foundation, a Trustee of the Ben Shahn Foundation, a member of the Council of the Grolier Club, and President of the International Graphic Arts Society.

On February 20, 1987, Wescott died of a stroke. He was 85 years old.

Two days later, Wheeler himself suffered a massive stroke, which left him legally blind and paralyzed on the left side of his body. He died at his home in Manhattan on August 14, 1988, eighteen months after the death of Wescott. He was 89 years old.

Craig Kaczorowski

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    Bibliography
   

Stephens, Christopher P. A Checklist of the Publications of Harrison of Paris and Monroe Wheeler. New York: Ultramarine Publishing, 1991.

Pohorilenko, Anatole, and James Crump. When We Were Three: The Travel Albums of George Platt Lynes, Monroe Wheeler, and Glenway Wescott, 1925-1935. Santa Fe, New Mexico: Arena Editions, 1998.

Leddick, David. Intimate Companions: A Triography of George Platt Lynes, Paul Cadmus, Lincoln Kirstein, and Their Circle. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.

Rosco, Jerry. Glenway Wescott Personally: A Biography. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2002.

Wescott, Glenway. Continual Lessons: The Journals of Glenway Wescott, 1937-1955. Robert Phelps and Jerry Rosco, eds. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1990.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Kaczorowski, Craig  
    Entry Title: Wheeler, Monroe  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2009  
    Date Last Updated July 6, 2009  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/wheeler_m_lit.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2009 glbtq, Inc.  
 

 

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