Lincoln Kirstein born 4 May 1907 (d. 1996)
Lincoln Edward Kirstein was an American writer, impresario, art connoisseur, and cultural figure in New York City, famous less for his own artistic achievement than for his social influence.
Born in Rochester, New York, to a very wealthy Bostonian family, he was educated at Harvard, from which he graduated in 1930.
His interest in ballet and George Balanchine started when he had seen Apollo with the Ballet Russes. He became determined to get Balanchine to America. Together with Edward M. M. Warburg (a classmate from Harvard), they started the School of American Ballet in Hartford, Connecticut, in October 1933. The studio moved to the fourth floor of a building at Madison Avenue and 59th Street in New York City in 1934. Warburg's father invited the group of students from the evening class to perform at a private party. The ballet they did was Serenade, the first major ballet choreographed by Balanchine in America. Just months later Kirstein and Warburg founded, together with Balanchine and Dimitriev, The American Ballet.
During World War 2 Kirstein joined the Army and served in Europe. He worked with the division of Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives, helping to recover stolen artwork from the Nazis. He was honorably discharged in 1946.
The American Ballet would become the resident company of the Metropolitan Opera, but this proved unsatisfactory because the Opera would not allow Balanchine and Kirstein artistic freedom. In 1946, Balanchine and Kirstein founded the Ballet Society, renamed the New York City Ballet in 1948. Together they made this one of the most innovative dance companies in the world.
His eclectic interests, ambition and keen interest in high culture, funded by independent means drew a large circle of friends which would stimulate creativity in many of the arts. These included: Glenway Wescott, Monroe Wheeler, George Platt Lynes, Pavel Tchelitchev, Katherine Anne Porter, Gertrude Stein, Cecil Beaton, Jean Cocteau, Jared French, George Tooker and far too many more to name.
[Lincoln Kirstein pictured right with Igor Stravinsky]
He was married in 1940 to Fidelma Cadmus, some say because he was in love with her brother Paul Cadmus. While his wife and he enjoyed an amicable relationship, he continued to pursue affairs with other men. The New York art world, considered his pursuit of men an 'open secret', although he did not publicly acknowledge his sexual orientation until 1982.
He was the primary patron of Cadmus and purchased many of his paintings and subsidised his living expenses. Cadmus had difficulty selling his work through galleries because of the erotically charged depictions of working and middle class men, which provoked great controversy.
Kirstein commissioned and helped to fund the physical home of the New York City Ballet: the New York State Theater building at Lincoln Center, designed in 1964 by gay architect Philip Johnson. Despite its conservative modernist exterior, the glittery red and gold interior recalls the imaginative and lavish backdrops of the Ballets Russes. He would serve as the general director of the ballet company from 1948 to 1989.
Kirstein and Balachine's collaboration lasted until Balanchine's death in 1983 [Kirstein and Balanchine pictured left].
President Ronald Reagan on March 26, 1984, presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
He exerted his greatest influence in the 1940s. He also appears to have been excessively handsome. [Photo: George Platt Lynes]
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