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Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney

 (1875 - 1942)
Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney was active/lived in New York, Rhode Island.  Gertrude Whitney is known for memorial statue and figure sculpture.

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney

Biography from the Archives of askART

The daughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt, Gertrude Whitney became a sculptor in early 20th century New York where she was raised,  and, rather than having a reputation for her own creativity, was better known as heiress to a fortune, patroness of the arts, and founder of the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Although the Whitney Museum focuses on avant-garde work, she was determinably anti-modernist in her sculpture.  Like so many who studied at the Art Students League* and influenced by Robert Henri, her style was post-Ashcan* realism.

She began sculpting at age twenty five after marrying Harry Payne Whitney, and she studied at the Art Students League* with James Earle Fraser and Hendrik Anderson. She also worked in Paris with Andrew O'Connor and Auguste Rodin.

She first exhibited at the 1901 Pan American Exposition* in Buffalo, and in 1907 opened a studio in Greenwich Village.  She exhibited work by many of her struggling contemporaries, and in 1914, hired an assistant, Juliana Force, and they expanded into the Whitney Studio Galleries.

She also became a noted collector, beginning with purchases of four paintings from the Eight American Painters* exhibit in 1908 at the Macbeth Gallery*.  It was this collection that in 1931 evolved into the Whitney Museum of American Art, a result of her being turned down by the Metropolitan Museum to build a wing for them to house her collection.

Her monumental sculpture, Buffalo Bill--The Scout, became the founding museum work of The Whitney Gallery of American Art at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming.

A beautiful woman, she was the subject of a 1916 portrait by Robert Henri.

Charlotte Streifer Rubinstein, American Women Sculptors
Sarah Boehme, Whitney Gallery of American Art

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

Biography from the Archives of askART
Her work can be found at:
Newport Art Museum:
1. Bronze sculpture (1919)--study for WWI monument located in Washington Heights,. N.Y.

Preservation Society of Newport County:
Building location: The Breakers
1. Bronze statue, "The Engineer"--Brig. General Cornelius Vanderbilt. Valsuani cast. (1919) (acc.# PSNC.4380)
2. Bronze statue--Maquette of the WWI monument commemorating the landing of the American Expeditionary Force. Dedicated in 1926 at St. Nazaire, Brittany, France, the monument was destroyed during Nazi occupation of WWII. Valsuani cast. (1926) (acc.# PSNC.4381)
3. Bronze, "Caryatid"--male figure bearing a rock (1913; cast in 1915 by Valsuani) (acc.# L.185)
4. Bronze caryatid figure on a marble base, "Force"--preliminary study for one of the figures on the Arlington and McGill University fountains. Valsuani cast (1916) (acc.# PSNC.4342)

Unveiled: a directory and guide to 19th century born artists active in Rhode Island, and where to find their work in publicly accessible Rhode Island collections
by Elinor L. Nacheman

Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, V
Gertrude Vanderbilt was born in New York City on January 9, 1875.  She was the eldest surviving daughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt II (1843-1899) and Alice Claypoole Gwynne (1852-1934) and a great-granddaughter of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt.

Gertrude Vanderbilt spent her summers in Newport, Rhode Island, at the family's mansion, The Breakers, where she kept up with the boys in all their rigorous sporting activities.  Educated by private tutors and at the exclusive Brearley School in New York City, at age 21 she married the extremely wealthy sportsman Harry Payne Whitney (1872-1930).

A banker and investor, Whitney was the son of William C. Whitney, and his mother was the daughter of a Standard Oil Company magnate. Harry Whitney inherited a fortune in oil and tobacco as well as interests in banking. Gertrude and Harry Whitney had three children, Flora (1897), Cornelius (1899), and Barbara (1903).

While visiting Europe in the early 1900s, Gertrude Whitney discovered the burgeoning art world of Montmartre and Montparnasse in France. What she saw encouraged her to pursue her creativity and become a sculptor.

As such, she studied her craft at the Art Students League of New York and then with Auguste Rodin in Paris. Eventually, she maintained art studios in Greenwich Village and in Passy, a fashionable Parisian neighborhood in the XVI arrondissement.  Her works received critical acclaim both in Europe and the United States.

Her great wealth afforded her the opportunity to become a patron of the arts, but she also devoted herself to the advancement of women in art.  She was the primary financial backer for the "International Composer's Guild," an organization created to promote the performance of modern music.

In 1914, in one of the many Manhattan properties she and her husband owned, Gertrude Whitney established the Whitney Studio Club at 8 West 8th Street in Greenwich Village as a facility where young artists could exhibit their works.  The place would evolve to become her greatest legacy, the Whitney Museum of American Art, on the site of today's New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture.  Founded in 1931, she decided to put the time and money into the museum after the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art turned down her offer to contribute her twenty-five-year collection of modern art works.

A colorful recollection of one of her parties celebrating her artist friends was recounted by the artist Jerome Myers. "Matching it in memory is a party at Mrs. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney's, on her Long Island estate, the artists there a veritable catalog of celebrities, painters and sculptors.  I can hardly visualize, let alone describe, the many shifting scenes of our entertainment: sunken pools and gorgeous white peacocks as line decorations spreading into the gardens; in their swinging cages, brilliant macaws nodding their beaks at George Luks as though they remembered posing for his pictures of them; Robert Chanler showing us his exotic sea pictures, blue-green visions in a marine bathroom; and Mrs. Whitney displaying her studio, the only place on earth in which she could find solitude. Here the artists felt at home, the Whitney hospitality always gracious and sincere."[3]

Public sculpture by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney

The Scout commemorating Buffalo Bill in Cody, Wyoming

Monument to the Discovery Faith is one of her biggest works, and is cubist style.   Monumento a la Fe Descubridora (Monument to the Discovery Faith) is located in Huelva, Spain.

Her numerous United States works include:

Fountain of El Dorado - San Francisco, California (now in Lima, Peru);
Aztec Fountain - Washington, D. C.;
Women's Titanic Memorial - Washington, D. C.;
William F. Cody Memorial - Cody, Wyoming
Victory Arch - Madison Square, New York City
Three Graces - McGill University lower campus Montreal, Quebec, commonly called the "Three Bares"
First World War memorial in Mitchell Square Park, Washington Heights, New York City
A marble replica of the head of the Titanic memorial was purchased by the Government of France for the Musée du Luxembourg.

During World War I, Gertrude Whitney dedicated a great deal of her time and money to various relief efforts, establishing and maintaining a hospital for wounded soldiers in Neuilly-sur-Seine, near Paris in France.  Following the end of the War, she was involved in the creation of a number of commemorative sculptures.  It was also during World War I that her brother Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt perished in the Lusitania disaster.

Later life
In 1934, she was at the center of a highly publicized court battle with her sister-in-law, Gloria Morgan-Vanderbilt, for custody of her ten-year-old niece, Gloria Vanderbilt.

Gertrude Whitney died in 1942, aged 67, and was interred next to her husband in Woodlawn Cemetery, The Bronx, New York. Her daughter Flora Whitney-Miller assumed her mother's duties as head of the Whitney Museum.

In 1999, Gertrude Whitney's granddaughter, Flora Miller Biddle, published a family memoir titled The Whitney Women and the Museum They Made.


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About  Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney

Born:  1875 - New York City
Died:   1942 - New York City
Known for:  memorial statue and figure sculpture

Essays referring to
Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney

San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915
Women Artists