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Whitney, Gertrude Vanderbilt (9 Jan. 1875-18 Apr. 1942), sculptor and patron of the arts, was born in New York City, the daughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, considered the wealthiest man in the United States, and Alice Claypoole Gwynne. She was raised in a neo-Renaissance palazzo in her native New York City. She attended the Brearley School and became a debutante, as befitted her social position. Vanderbilt graduated in 1894 and married Harry Payne Whitney in 1896; they had three children. In 1900 she began to study sculpture privately with Hendrik C. Anderson. She sought instruction from Daniel Chester French and Augustus Saint-Gaudens, but they both refused her as a student. At the Art Students League she enrolled in 1903 in sculpture classes with academician James Earle Fraser. In 1907 Whitney set up a studio in MacDougal Alley in Greenwich Village, and in adjoining quarters she often housed young artists. In addition to accommodations, Whitney offered these American artists gallery space for exhibiting their work and stipends for living expenses or travel abroad. She also established a spacious studio on the grounds of her estate in Westbury, Long Island. Her bohemian aspirations were far different from the reality of her life as a wealthy socialite. When the pioneering exhibition of "The Eight" was held at the Macbeth Gallery in 1908, Whitney purchased four paintings for her collection. She was one of the first collectors to support early modernism in America. In 1913 she contributed funds for the Armory Show, which introduced modernism to the American public. Her financial contributions to the Society of Independent Artists (founded in 1917) helped encourage rebellion from academic art, for this organization favored nonjuried exhibitions. Fearing that her art would not be properly judged because of her social position, Whitney first exhibited her sculpture under an assumed name. After one of her marbles was noted with distinction at the National Academy of Design in 1910, she began to exhibit as Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. In 1910 Whitney studied with Andrew O'Connor in Paris and received private criticism from Auguste Rodin, who had a profound effect on Whitney's early sculpture. Spanish Peasant (1911, Metropolitan Museum of Art) is an early example of Whitney's sustained involvement with life-size bronze busts. She conveys the strength and dignity of her subject: while her sitter remains anonymous, the fleshy mouth, strong chin, downcast eyes, and contemplative expression all bespeak a bold but sensitive individual. Whitney's naturalistic approach and quiet classicism derive from the Beaux-Arts tradition in which she was instructed. Rodinesque, however, is her technique of contrasting smooth and rough surface textures to create dramatic effects of light and shadow and to give the work a sensual, tactile quality. The bronze Caryatid (1913, Whitney Museum of American Art) was originally executed in 1912 as a study for one of three standing nude figures that support the basin of a monumental fountain designed for the Arlington Hotel in Washington, D.C., and presented in 1931 to McGill University, Montreal. Caryatid--more properly called "atlantid" since it is a male figure intended as an architectural support--strongly indicates Whitney's indebtedness to Auguste Rodin. Like many sculptors of her generation, she assimilated the innovations of the great French master into her style and used them in varying degrees for her subsequent work. While using classical contrapposto, Whitney brought her sculpture into the Rodinesque sphere by the emphasis on light and shadow, which alternately masks and reveals the figure. Whitney also suggested physical force through the taut musculature of the arms, legs, and back. The Arlington Fountain, carved in marble, and featuring plants and fish along with three muscular figures, was shown at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. Shortly after World War I was declared in Europe, Whitney founded a hospital in Juilly, France, for war victims. The months she spent in the war zone caused a major change in her work to a naturalistic style featuring subjects drawn from her immediate experience. Small bronzes of soldiers with war injuries were executed rapidly in a loose, impressionistic style, different from the academicism of her public monuments. Whitney was awarded a bronze medal at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915 and the Medal of the New York Society of Architects in 1922. Whitney is best known for her monumental sculptures, such as the Titanic Memorial (1914, Potomac Park, Washington, D.C.), an eighteen-foot-high figure in pink granite posed with outstretched arms, soaring above a thirty-foot-wide stone bench decorated with dolphins. The public monument was not installed until 1931. The St. Nazaire Monument (1924) in France and Buffalo Bill (1924), a thirteen-foot rearing horse and rider for the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Wyoming, are among her notable sculptures. Throughout her life Whitney was instrumental in promoting young American artists because she believed in the creative talent of her countrymen. She formed the Friends of Young Artists in 1915 and the Whitney Studio Club in 1918. Located in a building adjoining her studio in Greenwich Village, the Whitney Studio Club provided opportunities for artists to socialize, draw from models, and exhibit their work. Whitney had purchased more than five hundred paintings and sculptures from various exhibitions, and these she offered to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1929. When her collection was refused, she determined to open her own museum, with Juliana Force as the first director. In 1931 Whitney established the Whitney Museum of American Art on Eighth Street, helping to promote modernism in America and counter charges of provincialism leveled at American art. She sought to exhibit the works of Americans abroad, and she established Arts Magazine to promote research on modern art. Whitney was a member of the National Academy of Design, the Association of Women Painters and Sculptors, and the National Sculpture Society. She died in New York City. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney is remembered as the founder of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and as the patron of many early modernists in America. Her sculpture, including commissions for public monuments, was largely in the academic style prevalent in the early twentieth century and less progressive than the works of artists she supported. Renowned as an art collector and philanthropist, she had to struggle to be taken seriously as an artist. Bibliography Extensive archival holdings for Whitney can be found in the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution (Whitney Museum of American Art / Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney Papers, rolls 2356-75; 2888-89; 4861). A biography is B. H. Friedman, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1978). See Guy Pene du Bois, "Mrs. Whitney's Journey into Art," International Studio 76 (Jan. 1923): 351-54; Whitney Museum of American Art, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Memorial Exhibition (1943), with a foreword by Juliana Force; and Margaret Breuning, "Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney's Sculpture," Magazine of Art 36 (Feb. 1943): 62-65. Also see Avis Berman, Rebels on Eighth Street: Juliana Force and the Whitney Museum of American Art (1990). Joan Marter Back to the top Citation: Joan Marter. "Whitney, Gertrude Vanderbilt"; http://www.anb.org/articles/17/17-00929.html; American National Biography Online Feb. 2000. Access Date: Copyright (c) 2000 American Council of Learned Societies. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. Note: This email has been sent in plain text format so that it may be read with the standard ASCII character set. Special characters and formatting have been normalized. Copyright Notice Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of the American National Biography of the Day and Sample Biographies provided that the following statement is preserved on all copies: From American National Biography, published by Oxford University Press, Inc., copyright 2000 American Council of Learned Societies. Further information is available at http://www.anb.org. 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