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Lincoln Edward Kirstein (May 4, 1907 – January 5, 1996) was an American writer, impresario, art connoisseur, philanthropist, and cultural figure in New York City, noted especially as co-founder of the New York City Ballet. He developed and sustained the company with his organizing ability and fundraising for more than four decades, serving as the company's general director from 1946 to 1989. According to the New York Times, he was "an expert in many fields," organizing art exhibits and lecture tours in the same years. He was one of the Monument Men during World War II. In his memoirs, the American dancer and choreographer Lincoln Kirstein remembers having cut out and saved a picture in Vanity Fair, an etching by Troy Kinney of Vaslav Nijinsky in his costume for Les Sylphides. Kirstein rather coyly says of it, ‘this etching became an icon to which I constantly referred as the sum of masculine possibility’. It later turned out, when he met them, that both Osbert Sitwell and Richard Buckle remembered keeping the same clipping; Kirstein is naïvely surprised by this.
Beginning in 1919, Kirstein kept a diary, continuing with the practice until the late 1930s. In writing a 2007 biography of Kirstein, The Worlds of Lincoln Kirstein, Martin Duberman drew on these diaries, as well as Kirstein's numerous letters, to gain insight to Kirstein's personal life. Kirstein wrote about enjoying sex with various men, including Harvard undergraduates, sailors, street boys, and casual encounters in the showers at the 63rd St. YMCA. He had longer affairs with dancer Pete Martinez, artist Dan Maloney, and conservator Alexander Jensen Yow. Kirstein had both platonic relationships and many that started as casual sex and developed into long-term friendships.
He also maintained relationships with women. In 1941, he married Fidelma Cadmus (1906–1991), a painter and the sister of the artist Paul Cadmus. Kirstein and his wife enjoyed an amicable if sometimes stressful relationship until her death in 1991, but she withdrew from painting and then from life, suffering breakdowns that eventually were more permanent than his. Some of his boyfriends lived with them in their East 19th Street house; "Fidelma was enormously fond of most of them." The New York art world considered Kirstein's bisexuality an "open secret," although he did not publicly acknowledge his sexual orientation until 1982.
Lincoln Kirstein, by Pavel Tchelitchew
Lincoln Kirstein, by Gaston Lachaise
by George Platt Lynes
CARL VAN VECHTEN (1880-1964) Lincoln Kirstein. Silver print, the image measuring 231.8x158.8 mm; 9 1/8x6 1/4 inches, with Van Vechten's embossed blind stamp, on recto, and his copyright hand stamp, and the title, date, and inventory number, in ink, in an unknown hand, on verso. 1964. English critic Clement Crisp said of Lincoln Kirstein (1907-1966), "He was one of those rare talents who touch the entire artistic life of their time. Ballet, film, literature, theatre, painting, sculpture, photography all occupied his attention.' Kirsten co-founded the New York City Ballet in 1946 and served as the organization's general director from 1946 until 1989.
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Kirstein's eclectic interests, ambition and keen interest in high culture, funded by independent means, drew a large circle of creative friends from many fields of the arts. These included Glenway Wescott, George Platt Lynes, Jared French, Bernard Perlin, Pavel Tchelitchev, Katherine Anne Porter, Barbara Harrison Wescott, Gertrude Stein, Donald Windham, Cecil Beaton, Jean Cocteau, W.H. Auden, George Tooker, Margaret French Cresson, Walker Evans, Sergei Eisenstein and others.
In his later years, Kirstein struggled with bipolar disorder – mania, depression, and paranoia. He destroyed the studio of friend Dan Maloney. He sometimes had to be constrained in a straitjacket for weeks at a psychiatric hospital. His illness did not generally affect his professional creativity until the end of his life. He also suffered two heart attacks in February 1975.
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