Carl Van Vechten died in his sleep at his home, December 21, 1964. After a life spent flacking for modern art. Not enough attention has been paid to this American life, typical in its midwestern origins, atypical in its unerring sense of the incoming tide of art. Well, mainly unerring-- the first person to write about Richard Strauss in America, the executor of Gertrude Stein's estate, the photographer of the Harlem Renaissance, this man--- did participate in a strange 1920s literary current that is today pretty unreadable. Comedies, like Elinor Wylie's The Venetian Glass Nephew(1925), were matched by Van Vechten's Peter Whiffle (1922). Successful in their time, today I cannot reconstruct their appeal as sympathetic as I may be.
I may be out of date. Suddenly there's a flurry of talk about Van Vechten. Like
Edward White's The Tastemaker: Carl Van Vechten and the Birth of Modern America (2014).
And there's an article at Bookforum by Clive Fisher, who treats Van Vechten's love for cats as worth an essay on the occasion of his cat books being reissued:
For the first twenty-odd years of his metropolitan career, however, cats—whether anonymous street stalkers or his own beloved Ariel, Feathers, and Scheherazade—were a rival claimant on his affections, their eccentricities catalogued with a fond precision rarely accorded the human beings permitted his proximity. Van Vechten stopped owning cats in his forties, not because he tired of them but because he could no longer bear the pain of losing them. By then, however, The Tiger in the House had established him as their apologist, and the trope was developing, as his career pursued its various reinventions, that he, too, had nine proverbial lives.
The Tiger in the House (1920) and Lords of the Housetops (1921): if Google has not made them available, they are to be found for free at Hathitrust. These books are not dated. They helped secure Van Vechten a comfortable and steady income.
In regards to The Tiger in the House, the colophon Van Vechten designed for it, of a cat licking it's crotch, was rejected by the publisher. In his bookplate below, we see Carl Van Vechten did not stop pushing the borders in his choices.