Carl Van Vechten and Henriette Metcalf: 40 Years of Friendship

Carl Van Vechten and Henriette Metcalf: 40 Years of Friendship

Van Vechten, Carl (1880-1964).  A small collection of material sent to Henriette McCrea Metcalf, comprising two signed books, one ALS, one TLS, and an original photograph by Van Vechten, 1923-1964.

     The writer, photographer, and bon vivant Carl Van Vechten first met Henriette McCrae (1888-1981) in Paris in 1908. She was offering a vocal recital, but was terribly off-key; he was overcome with a fit of the giggles. Improbably, they became fast friends and remained so for the rest of their lives.

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Willard Metcalf, My Wife and Daughter (1917)   

     Born into a wealthy Chicago family, Henriette married the painter Willard Metcalf, 30 years her senior, in 1911, and had two children. They divorced in 1920, but she still inherited everything upon his death in 1925. In 1928, she met the artist Thelma Wood through their mutual friend Colette, and began a relationship that would last for sixteen years. Djuna Barnes, who had been Wood’s partner before she met Metcalf, got her revenge on the interloper. In her novel Nightwood, Barnes immortalizes the couple in a viciously satirical double-portrait as Robin Vote (Wood) and “the squatter” Jenny Petherbridge (Metcalf). Metcalf and Wood moved to Connecticut in 1934.

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Thelma Wood, Pencil sketch used on the cover of Nightwood (ca. 1930)

This small archive spans 40 years of a lifelong friendship between Van Vechten and Metcalf. In his letters and inscriptions, CVV addresses Metcalf by her pet name, “Pam.” Chronologically arranged, the collection includes the following materials:

Van Vechten, Carl.The Blind Bow Boy. New York: Knopf, 1923. First edition. Foxed, spine darkened, lacking the dustwrapper.  Inscribed: “To the wholly adorable Pam, with my love. Carl Van Vechten, Aug 1, 1923. New York”

[Van Vechten] Hoffenstein, Samuel. The Tow-Headed Blind Boy; or, The Blind Bow-Boy's Step-Brother ... Being a Footnote in Ash and Scarlet on Carl Van Vechten's Brilliant and Amusing Novel. [Cedar Rapids, IA]: Privately Printed, 1923. First edition. One of about 250 copies. Kellner H81. Toning and foxing, covers soiled, pages uncut. Inscribed: “Dear Pam, This grand parody of a man with wicked thoughts. Carl Van Vechten, January 7, 1924, New York.”

Van Vechten. ANS to Henriette Metcalf, on an original photograph of the artist Lady Bird (Cleveland) Strickland (1927-2015) facing her portrait of a man. With CVV’s blindstamp. Creased. Used as a postcard, with note on reverse. “Dear Pam, This is Ladybird in her first reincarnation. There will be others. Love, Carlo, Oct. 18. [19]54.”

Van Vechten, TNS to Henriette Metcalf, 1 page on his personal stationary, with original envelope, April 16, 1960. “The whole house is laden with YOUR cats. Susan B. Anthony the calico cat sits in grandeur in my studio where she is in the company of Annina and Ishtar…” Signed “Carlo, ma[l]gre[?] patriarch et beau mage.” A holograph postscript on the envelope reads: “I want to photograph the Dutch Boy!”

Van Vechten. ANS to Henriette Metcalf, 1 page, on a greeting card from the New York Public Library, with original envelope, June 19, 1964. Refers to “your pyjama cat and your own cat in his chaise longue,” and to her son, Addison. Signed “Carlo.”


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    Carl Van Vechten and Henriette Metcalf: 40 Years of Friendship