Lincoln Kirstein (1907-1996). Courtesy NNDB.

Lincoln Edward Kirstein (May 4, 1907 - January 5, 1996) was an American poet, prose writer, impresario, art connoisseur, and cultural figure in New York City. The New York Times called him "an expert in many fields."[1]


Born in Rochester, New York, the grandson of a successful Rochester clothing manufacturer, Kirstein grew up in a wealthy Jewish Bostonian family. He attended Berkshire School, graduating in 1926; his father was president of Filene's Department Store when Lincoln entered Harvard University.[2]

In 1927, while an undergraduate (he graduated in 1930), he was annoyed that the campus literary magazine The Harvard Advocate would not accept his work. With a friend, Varian Fry (who later married his sister Eileen), he convinced his father to finance their own literary quarterly, the Hound & Horn. Moved to New York City in 1930 to New York, the quarterly became an important publication in the artistic world, publishing until 1934.

Kirstein's interest in ballet started and George Balanchine began when he saw Balanchine's Apollo performed by the Ballet Russe. He became determined to get Balanchine to America. He and Edward Warburg (a classmate from Harvard) started the School of American Ballet in Hartford, Connecticut, in October 1933. In 1934, the studio moved to the 4th floor of a building at Madison Avenue and 59th Street in New York City. Warburg's father invited the 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, together with Balanchine and Dimitriev, founded the American Ballet. This became the resident company of the Metropolitan Opera. That arrangement was unsatisfactory because the Opera would not allow Balanchine and Kirstein artistic freedom.

World War IIEdit

Kirstein's career was interrupted by the United States' entry into World War II. After enlisting in 1943, before going overseas he started working on a project gathering and documenting soldier art that would eventually become the exhibit and book Artists Under Fire. In the spring of 1944 he was sent to London for the U. S. Arts and Monuments Commission; after a month he was transferred to the unit in France that came to be known as the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) section.[3] Soon after being promoted to Private First Class in January 1945 (in Patton's Third Army), his unit moved to Germany and he was personally involved with retrieving artworks around Munich and in the salt mines at Altaussee. He wrote the article "The Quest for the Golden Lamb" which was published in Town & Country in September 1945, the same month he was discharged from the Army.

New York City BalletEdit

In 1946, Balanchine and Kirstein founded the Ballet Society, renamed the New York City Ballet in 1948.[1] He served as the company's General Director from 1946 to 1989.[3]

Kirstein wrote in a 1959 monograph called "What Ballet Is All About":

"Our Western ballet is a clear if complex blending of human anatomy, solid geometry and acrobatics offered as a symbolic demonstration of manners—the morality of consideration for one human being moving in time with another."[1]

Friendships and personal lifeEdit

Kirstein's eclectic interests, ambition and keen interest in high culture, funded by independent means, drew a large circle of friends who stimulated creativity in many of the arts. These included: Glenway Wescott, Monroe Wheeler, George Platt Lynes, Jared French, Bernard Perlin, Pavel Tchelitchev, Katherine Anne Porter, Barbara Harrison, Gertrude Stein, Jensen Yow, Jonathan Tichenor, Donald Windham, Cecil Beaton, Jean Cocteau, W.H. Auden, George Tooker, Margaret French Cresson, Walker Evans, Sergei Eisenstein and more.

Kirstein kept diaries beginning in summer camp in 1919 until the late 1930s, and Martin Duberman's 2007 biography The Worlds of Lincoln Kirstein makes use of them and numerous letters. Kirstein enjoyed sex with women and with men: Harvard undergraduates, sailors, street boys, casual encounters in the showers at the 63rd St YMCA. Longer affairs are described with dancer Pete Martinez, artist Dan Maloney, and conservator Jensen Yow among others, as well as relationships that were physically unrealized. Casual sex frequently grew into long-term friendship.

In 1941 he married Fidelma Cadmus, the sister of the artist Paul Cadmus. He and his wife enjoyed an amicable if not stressful relationship until her death in 1991. Some of his boyfriends lived with them in their East 19th Street house; "Fidelma was enormously fond of most of them."[4] The New York art world considered his bisexuality an "open secret," although he did not publicly acknowledge his sexual orientation until 1982.

Kirstein was the primary patron of Fidelma's brother, the artist Paul Cadmus, buying many of his paintings and subsidizing 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 controversy.

In his later years, Kirstein struggled with bipolar disorder- mania, depression, and paranoia. He destroyed the studio of friend Dan Maloney, and sometimes was in a straitjacket for weeks at a psychiatric hospital.[4] His illness did not generally affect his professional creativity until the end of his life.


English critic Clement Crisp wrote:—

"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."

Kirstein helped organize a 1959 American tour for musicians and dancers from the Japanese Imperial Household Agency. At that time, Japanese Imperial court music gagaku had only rarely been performed outside the Imperial Music Pavilion in Tokyo at some of the great Japanese shrines.[1]

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 architect Philip Johnson (1906-2005). Despite its conservative modernist exterior, the glittery red and gold interior recalls the imaginative and lavish backdrops of the Ballets Russes. He served as the general director of the ballet company from 1948 to 1989.

Kirstein's and Balanchine's collaboration lasted until the latter's death in 1983. On March 26, 1984, President Ronald Reagan presented Kirstein with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contributions to the arts.

Kirstein was a serious collector. Early in the history of the Dance Collection, he gave the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts a wealth of rare dance materials. Before his death in 1996, Kirstein donated all his papers, artworks, and other materials related to the history of dance and his life in the arts to the Dance Collection. These treasures in the Kirstein collection will inform future generations' pursuing the knowledge of dance.


  • Presidential Medal of Freedom, US.[1]
  • National Medal of Arts, US, 1985.[1]
  • Royal Society of Arts, Benjamin Franklin Medal, UK, 1981.[1]
  • National Society of Arts and Letters, National Gold Medal of Merit Award, US.[1]
  • National Museum of Dance Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame inductee, 1987.

Publications Edit



  • White House Happening: A legend after Lincoln in two acts. 1967.



  • A Marriage Message for Mary Frost & James Maybon from Lincoln Kirstein. Paris: privately published, 1929;
  • Quarry: A collection in lieu of memoirs. Pasadena, CA: Twelvetrees Press, 1986.
  • "Mosaic: Memoirs", New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1994.


  • Gaston Lachaise: Retrospective exhibition, January 30 - March 7, 1935, Museum of Modern Art. New York: Rudge, 1935.
  • American Battle Painting, 1776-1918. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution / New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1944.
  • The Latin-American Collection of the Museum of Modern Art. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1943.
  • William Rimmer, 1816-1879. New York: 1946
    • also published as William Rimmer: His life and art. Amherst, MA: Massachusetts Review, 1961.
  • The Sculpture of Elie Nadelman. New York, Museum of Modern Art / Boston: Institute of Contemporary Art / Baltimore, MD: Baltimore Museum of Art, 1948.
  • Symbolic realism in American painting, 1940-1950. London: Institute of Contemporary Arts, 1950.
  • Memorial to a Marriage: An album on the Saint-Gaudens Memorial in Rock Creek Cemetery. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989.
  • Tchelichev. Santa Fe, NM: Twelvetrees Press, 1994.


  • Fokine. London: British-Continental Press (Artists of the Dance), 1934.
  • Blast at Ballet: A corrective for the American audience. New York: Marstin Press, 1938.
  • Ballet Alphabet: A primer for laymen. New York: Kamin, 1939.
  • The Book of the Dance: A short history of classic theatrical dancing. Garden City, NY: Garden City Publishing, 1942
    • also published as *Dance: A short history of classic theatrical dancing. Brooklyn, NY: Dance Horizons, 1969.
  • Carnaval, Le Spectre de la Rose and Les Sylphides (with Arnold L Haskell & Stewart Deas). London: Bodley Head, 1948.
  • Foreword to The Dance Encyclopedia (edited by Anatole Chujoy). New York: A.S. Barnes, 1949.
  • The Classic Ballet": Basic techniques and terminology (with Muriel Stuart; illustrated by Carlus Dyer). New York: Knopf, 1952.
  • What Ballet is About: An American glossary. Brooklyn, NY: Dance Perspectives, 1958.
  • For John Martin: Entries from an early diary. New York: Dance Perspectives Foundation, 1973.
  • Movement and Metaphor: Four centuries of ballet. New York: Praeger, 1970.
  • Elie Nadelman. New York: Eakins Press, 1973.
  • The New York City Ballet (photos by Martha Swope; George Platt Lynes). New York: Knopf, 1973.
    • revised and enlarged as Thirty years: Lincoln Kirstein's The New York City Ballet: Expanded to include the years 1973-1978, in celebration of the company's thirtieth anniversary. New York: Knopf, 1978.
  • Nijinksy Dancing. New York: Knopf, 1975.
  • Union Jack: The New York City Ballet. New York: Eakins, 1977.
  • Ballet, Bias and Belief: Three pamphlets collected, and other dance writings (edited by Nancy Reynolds). New York: Dance Horizons, 1983. ISBN 0-87127-133-8
  • Paul Cadmus. New York: Imago, 1984.
  • Four Centuries of Ballet: Fifty masterworks. New York: Dover, 1984.
  • Portrait of Mr. B: Photographs of George Balanchine, with an essay by Leonard Kirstein. New York: Viking, 1984.


  • Puss in Boots (illustrated by Alain Vaës). Boston: Little, Brown, 1992.

Collected editionsEdit

  • By With To and From: A Leonard Kirstein reader (edited by Nicholas Jenkins). New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1991.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[5]

Broadway CreditsEdit

  • The Saint of Bleecker Street [Original, Play, Drama, Play with music] Production Supervisor December 27, 1954 – April 2, 1955
  • Misalliance [Revival, Play, Comedy] New York City Drama Company Managing Director March 6, 1953 – June 27, 1953
  • The Ballet Caravan – Billy the Kid choreographed by Eugene Loring – May 24, 1939 – [unknown]
  • Filling Station [Original, Ballet, One Act] choreographed by Lew Christensen, premiered January 6, 1938, Hartford Connecticut.

See alsoEdit



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Jack Anderson (January 6, 1996). "Lincoln Kirstein, City Ballet Co-Founder, Die". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-02-09. "Lincoln Kirstein, a co-founder of the New York City Ballet and a visionary who never wavered in his belief that ballet could flourish in America..." 
  2. "Famous Alumni". Boarding School Review. Retrieved 2012-04-14. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Monuments Men Foundation: Kuhn, Monuments Men> Kirstein, Pfc. Lincoln E.
  4. 4.0 4.1 The Kirstein Century
  5. Search results = au:Lincoln Kirstein, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Oct. 25, 2014.

External links Edit

  • Lincoln Kirstein at
  • Lincoln Kirstein's complete bibliography: Lincoln Kirstein: A bibliography of Published Writings, 1922-1996 (2007), New York: Eakins Press Foundation
    (available online at
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