Introduction

This online exhibit is presented in conjunction with the Sixteenth Annual Lillian L. Rolde Lecture, The Strange Saga of how Georgia O'Keeffe (posthumously) Helped Uncover Carl Van Vechten's Portrait Photography at Brandeis University: African-American Literati, Artists, and Entertainers, 1932-64, by Professor Nancy J. Scott, Associate Professor, Fine Arts, Brandeis University. The lecture, and Professor Scott's research, are based on the Carl Van Vechten Photograph Collection owned by the Special Collections Department, Brandeis University Libraries. This collection of more than 1,600 images was given to the university by the executors of the Van Vechten estate in 1966.

The online exhibit highlights a selection of African-American portraits of artists from various fields. Many of these artists are familiar faces today, even though some of the portraits were created more than fifty years ago. The importance of these images is two-fold; 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 as technically complex images as some of the professional photographers of his day, a consistent artistic sensibility pervades his work. His portraits of the influential African-Americans of the first half of the 20th century illustrate a rich artistic and intellectual era.

Written permission to copy or publish these images must be obtained from the Special Collections Department, Brandeis University Libraries.