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Keller, Capt. Deane | Kirstein, Pfc. Lincoln E. | Koch, Lt. Robert A.

Kirstein, Pfc. Lincoln E.  

Private First Class, U.S. Third Army, Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA)

Born in Rochester, New York on May 4, 1907, Lincoln Kirstein was exposed to the arts at a very young age which fostered his love of dance, poetry, music and modern art. While studying at Harvard, Kirstein established the Harvard Society for Contemporary Art (1928) and Harvard’s Hound and Horn Literary Magazine (1927). In 1933 the Russian choreographer George Balanchine came to the United States at Kirstein’s invitation and together they founded the School of American Ballet (1934) and the Ballet Society (1946). However, Kirstein’s involvement with the MFAA is not as widely recognized.

In 1943, Kirstein was inducted into the United States Army and forced to shift his focus from the ballet to physical hardship. While enlisted, he utilized his knowledge of art and managed to keep himself busy expanding an existing project by “gathering and documenting soldier art…and eventually branching out into an elaborate set of…plans that would include a large-scale exhibit and book…entitled ‘Artists Under Fire’.”1 However, just as his projects started to take shape, in the spring of 1944, Kirstein was promoted to an overseas assignment with the U.S. Arts and Monuments Commission.2

After a month in London, Kirstein was transferred to a unit in France where he began composing a multitude of poems based on his experiences (later published in Rhymes of a PFC). For several months, Kirstein occupied his time as a chauffeur, writer and translator, but in January 1945, he was promoted to PFC in Patton’s Third Army. Only a month later, Kirstein (and his unit) moved to Germany, and his “vast store of knowledge was put to use tracking down works of art looted by the Nazis.”3 Working with his commanding Monuments officer, Captain Robert Posey, Kirstein’s expertise was put to use in the field and at the Munich Central Collecting Point. The two men recovered numerous masterpieces from the salt mines at Altaussee, on which Kirstein wrote an article titled “The Quest for the Golden Lamb,” featured in the September 1945 issue of Town and Country magazine. In his article, Kirstein recounts his and Capt. Posey’s discovery of the Ghent Altarpiece by the Van Eyck brothers. Kirstein was discharged from the Army in September 1945 but continued to support his fellow Monuments Men still working in Europe by endorsing, but not signing the Wiesbaden Manifesto.

In 1946, within four months of his discharge, Kirstein and Balanchine established the Ballet Society which was renamed the New York City Ballet in 1949. He served as its General Director from 1946 to 1989. Kirstein received the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1984), the National Medal of Arts (1985), and with Balanchine, the National Gold Medal of Merit Award of the National Society of Arts and Letters. Before his death in January 1996, he donated his papers to the Jerome Robbins Dance Division Research Collection of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

[1] Martin Duberman, The Worlds of Lincoln Kirstein (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007) 388.
[2] Ibid., 389.
[3] New York City Ballet,


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