Van Vechten, Carl

Van Vechten, Carl văn vĕkˈtən [key], 1880–1964, American music critic, novelist, and photographer, b. Cedar Rapids, Iowa, grad. Univ. of Chicago, 1903. While he was a leading music and dance critic in New York City, he celebrated such avant-garde figures as Igor Stravinsky and Isadora Duncan, meanwhile writing The Music of Spain (1918) and other critical works. In his criticism, Van Vechten tended to spurn the 19th-century distinctions between high and low art, good and bad taste. At 40 he began writing novels, the best known of which, written in the sophisticated style of the 1920s, are Peter Whiffle (1922), The Blind Bow-Boy (1923), The Tattooed Countess (1924), Nigger Heaven (1926), and Spider Boy (1928). After completing his autobiographical Sacred and Profane Memories (1932), he turned to photography, concentrating on portraits of cultural figures and self-portraits. Van Vechten was also well known for his interest in African-American culture, his promotion of the artists of the Harlem Renaissance, and his efforts to promote better interracial relations.

See E. Bernard, ed., Remember Me to Harlem: The Letters of Langston Hughes and Carl Van Vechten (2001); B. Kellner, Carl Van Vechten and the Irreverent Decades (1968); E. Bernard, Carl Van Vechten and the Harlem Renaissance (2012); E. White, The Tastemaker: Carl Van Vechten and the Birth of Modern America (2014).

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