In the early 1930s, after being introduced to the 35mm Leica camera, Van Vechten began to photograph his large circle of famous friends and acquaintances, including such subjects as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Langston Hughes, Alfred A. Knopf, Bessie Smith, and Gertrude Stein, usually bust- or half-length poses in front of backdrops. He is perhaps best known for his many portraits of the creative forces of the Harlem Renaissance. Van Vechten remained active, writing and photographing, until his death in 1964.
In 1946, the Cedar Rapids Community School District received a large gift of 153 photographs from the artist and then in 1996, this original gift was augmented by another 29 photographs from the Van Vechten estate, all of which have been housed at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art since the flood of 2008. This year, on the 50th anniversary of his death in 1964, we celebrate the accomplishments of this noted writer and photographer. Drawing from the extensive collection of Van Vechten photographs in the possession of the Cedar Rapids Community School District, the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art will mount two successive exhibitions of his work, thereby sharing more of the collection than a single exhibition would allow.
These exhibitions are made possible in part by a Program Fund Grant from the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation.