Archives Directory for the History of Collecting in America

Archives related to: Van Vechten, Carl, 1880-1964

titleCarl Van Vechten papers, 1833-1965, bulk (1920-1940) (MssCol 3142)
locationNew York Public Library, Manuscripts and Archives Division
collection titlePapers reflect Van Vechten's social life and professional career as a writer, photographer and patron of the arts; they also document Van Vechten's literary and artistic circle of friends and colleagues.

An avid collector, Van Vechten retained the letters of prominent individuals who corresponded with him including Ralph Barton, James Branch Cabell, Arthur Davidson Ficke, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Donald Gallup, Langston Hughes, Edward Jablonski, Klaus Jonas, James Weldon Johnson, Mabel Dodge Luhan, Bruce Kellner, Saul Mauriber, H. L. Mencken, Georgia O'Keeffe, Alfred Stieglitz, Florine Stettheimer, and Henrietta Stettheimer.

Papers are also rich in Van Vechten's photographs of prominent individuals, and in 19th century photographs of his family in Iowa. Multiple editions of Van Vechten's monographs and the monographs of others add to the diversity of the papers. Many of the monographs have been autographed by the author.
extent156.3 linear feet (208 boxes, 339 v.).
formatsCorrespondence Financial Records Legal Papers Printed Materials Writings
accessApply in Special Collections Office for admission to the Manuscripts and Archives Division. Microfilm must be used in lieu of originals when available. Some typescripts are restricted due to fragile condition; photocopies must be used in lieu of originals.
record link
record source
finding aidCollection guide available in repository and on internet:,1,1,B/l856~b3427979&FF=tcarl+van+vechten+papers&1,1,,1,0/startreferer//search/tCarl+Van+Vechten+papers%2C/tcarl+van+vechten+papers/1,1,1,B/frameset&FF=tcarl+van+vechten+papers&1,1,/endreferer/
acquisition informationThe Carl Van Vechten Papers were received as a gift from Carl Van Vechten and the Van Vechten estate over a period of years between 1941 to 1988. Gifts of other additions were received other donors between the years of 1965-1982 from Bruce Kellner, Saul Mauribner and Paul Padgette.
updated01/28/2019 15:36:15

titleCarl Van Vechten Photograph Collection.
repositoryBrandeis University Libraries
collection titleCarl Van Vechten took photographs of many the major artists and intellectuals of the first half of the 20th century. The importance of these images is twofold; they document a specific time and milieu in 20th-century American history that was neglected by others, and they are among some of the earliest art photography images created.

While Van Vechten never created images as technically complex as some of the professional photographers of his day, a consistent artistic sensibility pervades his work. In particular, his portraits of influential African-Americans illustrate a rich artistic and intellectual era in the African-American community.

There are 1689 black and white photographs in the collection. While Van Vechten gave several universities and libraries photographic collections, each one varies in scope.

Carl Van Vechten was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1880. The youngest son of a successful banker and a mother who was a patron of the arts, Van Vechten grew up in a liberal and sophisticated household. He graduated in 1903 from the University of Chicago, his interest in writing causing him to take a job as a journalist.

In 1906 he moved to New York and began writing for the New York Times, taking on more and more of the arts assignments. In 1913 he met Mabel Dodge, a wealthy patron of the arts, and through her met the leading artists and intellectuals of the time, including Alfred Stieglitz, Marsden Hartley, Gertrude Stein, and Emma Goldman.

Between 1915-1920 Van Vechten wrote several books of critical essays on various topics in the arts. In the 1920s he moved on to writing fiction, publishing several novels that were critical and financial successes. At this time Van Vechten discovered Harlem and spent a great deal of time there enjoying its diverse cultural and artistic offerings. This began Van Vechten's lifelong interest and championing of the African-American arts and people.

In 1932 Van Vechten moved on to a new career, from novelist to photographer. While he was always interested in photography, it was the introduction of the new Leica camera, portable and using the inexpensive 35 mm film, that caused him to take photography seriously. Van Vechten took thousands of photographs on all subjects, but his favorite subject, and the one he is most known for, is portraiture. Many of the portraits by Van Vechten are of friends and acquaintances in the arts world he moved in. Because of his interest and friends in Harlem, Van Vechten took many photographs of notable African-Americans, documenting an important part of early 20th-century American history ignored and neglected by others.

Van Vechten's photographic career lasted until his death in 1964 at the age of 83. He created more than 15,000 photographs during his career, attempting to chronicle the artistic world of his time. By the time he started his photographic career Van Vechten was financially secure and never had to worry about commercial success. It was only after Van Vechten's death that a serious market for art photography was established; thus Van Vechten was able to pursue his own interests and personal aesthetic.
extent46 manuscript boxes
accessAccess to the collection is in accordance with the policies of Brandeis University Libraries, Special Collections.
record source
acquisition informationThe collection was given by the Carl Van Vechten Estate.
updated12/07/2018 10:45:54