Lincoln Edward Kirstein (May 4, 1907 - January 5, 1996) 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 University, from which he was graduated in 1930. His father was chairman of Filene's Department Store, in Boston, and his mother was the daughter of a successful clothing manufacturer in Rochester, New York.

His interest in ballet and George Balanchine started when he had seen "Apollo" with the Ballet Russe. 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.

This 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, Jared French, Bernard Perlin, Pavel Tchelitchev, Katherine Anne Porter, Barbara Harrison, Gertrude Stein, Jensen Yow, Jonathan Tichenor, Cecil Beaton, Jean Cocteau, George Tooker, Margaret French and far too many more to name.

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 subsidized 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.

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, sculptor, photography all occupied his attention

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 (1906-2005). 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.

Their collaboration lasted until Balanchine's death in 1983. President Ronald Reagan on March 26, 1984, presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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

He exerted his greatest influence in the 1940s.

Broadway Credits

  • The Saint of Bleecker Street [Original, Play, Drama, Play with music] Production Supervisor Dec 27, 1954 - Apr 2, 1955
  • Misalliance [Revival, Play, Comedy] New York City Drama Company Managing Director Mar 6, 1953 - Jun 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.

Selected bibliography

  • Dance: A Short History of Classic Theatrical Dancing (1935), New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons
  • Ballet Alphabet: A Primer for Laymen (1939), New York: Kamin
  • The Classic Ballet: Basic Technique and Terminology (with Muriel Stuart, 1952), New York: Knopf
  • Movement & Metaphor: Four Centuries of Ballet (1970), New York: Praeger
  • The New York City Ballet (1973), New York: Knopf. ISBN 0-394-46652-7
  • Rhymes of a Pfc (rev. ed. 1980), Boston: David R. Godine. ISBN 0-87923-330-3
  • Ballet, Bias and Belief: Three Pamphlets Collected and Other Dance Writings (1983), New York: Dance Horizons. ISBN 0-87127-133-8
  • Quarry: A Collection in Lieu of Memoirs (1986), Pasadena, Calif.: Twelvetrees. ISBN 0-942642-27-9
  • The Poems of Lincoln Kirstein (1987), New York: Atheneum. ISBN 0-689-11923-2
  • Tchelitchev (1994), Santa Fe, N.M.: Twelvetrees. ISBN 0-942642-40-6


  • Leddick, David (2000). Intimate Companions: A Triography of George Platt Lynes, Paul Cadmus, Lincoln Kirstein, and Their Circle. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-20898-7. 

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