African-American Portraits by Carl Van Vechten

This online exhibit is presented in conjunction with the 16th 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 or publish these images must be obtained from the Special Collections Department, Brandeis University Libraries.

Alphabetical List of Images

Marian Anderson, Jan. 14, 1940

Anderson, Marian, January 14, 1940; 11" x 13 3/4"; i.d. number: XII.Q Box 2/13

Marian Anderson, January 14, 1940

Anderson, Marian, January 14, 1940; 11" x 14"; i.d. number: XIII.Q.9 Box 2/12

Marian Anderson,  January 14, 1940

Anderson, Marian, January 14, 1940; 11" x 14"; i.d. number: XII.Q Box 2/14

Pearl Bailey,  (in Arms o' the Girl) March 12, 1950

Bailey, Pearl, (in Arms o' the Girl) March 12, 1950; 9 1/4" x 13"; i.d. number: X.hh Box 3/4

Pearl Bailey,  (taking a call after singing A Woman's Prorogative [!] in St. Louis Woman) July 5, 1946

Bailey, Pearl, (taking a call after singing A Woman's Prorogative [!] in St. Louis Woman) July 5, 1946; i.d. number: VI.CC.10 Box 3/5

Harry Belafonte singing

Belafonte, Harry (in Almanac) February 18, 1954; 9" x 13"; i.d. number: VIII.LL Box 3/37

Harry Belafonte, (in Almanac) February 18, 1954

Belafonte, Harry (in Almanac) February 18, 1954; 9 1/4" x 14"; i.d. number: VIII.LL.10 Box 3/36

 John W.  Bubbles (as Sporting Life in Porgy and Bess) December 27, 1935

Bubbles, John W. (as Sporting Life in Porgy and Bess) December 27, 1935; 11" x 14"; i.d. number: XXXVI.i.4 Box 5/23

Cab Calloway, January 12, 1940

Calloway, Cab, January 12, 1940; 11" x 14"; i.d. number: XX.B.26 Box 6/7

Cab Calloway, January 12, 1933. Profile view.

Calloway, Cab, January 12, 1933; 11" x 14"; i.d. number: XX.b.6 Box 6/8

Diahann Carroll, March 14, 1955

Carroll, Diahann, March 14, 1955; 9 1/4" x 13"; i.d. number: XII.MM.12 Box 6/13

Diahann Carroll, March 14, 1955

Carroll, Diahann, March 14, 1955; 9 1/2" x 13 1/2"; i.d. number: XII.MM.21 Box 6/16

Countee Cullen, (in Central Park) June 20, 1941

Cullen, Countee (in Central Park) June 20, 1941; 9 1/2" X 13 3/4"; i.d. number: XIII.V.11 Box 8/34

Beauford Delaney, March 18, 1953; 9 1/4" X 13 1/4"; i.d. number: XII.K.22 Box 10/1

Beauford, Delaney, March 18, 1953; 9 1/4" X 13 1/4"; i.d. number: XII.K.22 Box 10/1

Ella Fitzgerald, January 19, 1940

Fitgerald, Ella January 19, 1940; 8 3/4" X 13 1/2"; i.d. number: XIV.Q.26 Box 13/16

Zora Neal Hurston, April 3, 1938

Hurston, Zora Neal April 3, 1938; 9 1/4" x 13 1/2"; i.d. number: IV.h.8 Box 19/14

James Weldon Johnson, December 1, 1932

Johnson, James Weldon December 1, 1932; 9 3/4" x 13 1/2"; i.d. number: IV.b.5 Box 20/27

James Earl Jones, May 29, 1961

Jones, James Earl May 29, 1961; 9" X 13 3/4"; i.d. number: IX.SS.5 Box 21/5

Eartha Kitt, October 19, 1952

Kitt, Eartha October 19, 1952; 8 3/4" x 13"; i.d. number: XVIII.JJ.4 Box 22/16

Jacob Lawrence, July 31, 1941

Lawrence, Jacob July 31, 1941; 9" X 14"; Box 24/19

Horace Pippin, February 4, 1940

Pippin, Horace February 4, 1940; 11" x 13 3/4"; i.d. number: XVI.Q.6

Leontyne Price, December 11, 1951

Price, Leontyne December 11, 1951; 9 1/4" x 13"; i.d. number: I.JJ.8 Box 35/1

Leontyne Price (in Porgy and Bess), May 19, 1953

Price, Leontyne (in Porgy and Bess) May 19, 1953; 9" x 13"; i.d. number: XVII.KK.11 Box 35/9

 Paul Robeson (by Jacob Epstein), March 14, 1935

Robeson, Paul (by Jacob Epstein) March 14, 1935; 11" x 14"; i.d. number: VI.h.25 Box 36/32

Schuyler, George S. July 2, 1941

Schuyler, George S. July 2, 1941; 8 3/4" x 12 3/4"; i.d. number: XXI.V.4 Box 38/10

Bessie Smith, February 3, 1936

Smith, Bessie February 3, 1936; 10" x 13 3/4"; i.d. number: V.J.10 Box 39/22

Ethel Waters (as Carmen), August 28, 1938

Waters, Ethel (as Carmen), August 28, 1938

Ethel Waters, August 28, 1938

Waters, Ethel August 28, 1938; 11" x 14"; i.d. number: IX.N.28 Box 44/22

Richard Wright,  June 23, 1939

Wright, Richard June 23, 1939; 11" x 14"; i.d. number: X.p.0 Box 46/25