Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney: The founder of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City

 

In 1910, her statue of a young girl sitting on a rock with outstretched arms, next to a male figure, “Paganisme Immortale”,  was exhibited at the National Academy of Design. The next year, her sculpture Spanish Peasant was accepted in the Paris Salon. In 1915, Whitney was awarded a bronze medal at the San Francisco Exhibition. In 1916, she had her first solo exhibition in New York City.

Gertrude Whitney donated a great deal of her time and money to numerous relief efforts during the WWI. She established and even maintained a fully operational hospital, 35 kilometers northwest of Paris, for the wounded soldiers. While she was in the hospital, Gertrude spent a lot of time with the soldiers, making portraits of them. This period influenced her work giving it a more serious touch.

Victory Arch, one of two bronze reliefs, New York City  Photo credit

 

The Three Graces, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada  Photo credit

 

Buffalo Bill – The Scout, Cody, Wyoming  Photo credit

Peter Styvesant, New York City Photo credit

The 1934 Titanic Memorial which is considered as Whitney’s most important achievement, was built from a $50,000 prize that she had won in a competition in 1914.

She also sculpted the A.E.F. Memorial in St. Nazaire Harbor in France in 1924, and the Monumento a la Fe Descubridora (Monument to the Discovery Faith), the Christopher Columbus memorial in Huelva, Spain. She presented her Caryatid Fountain to McGill University in Montreal, in Canada, in 1931.

Aztec fountain, Pan-American Union Building, Washington, D.C. Photo credit

 

 

Women’s Titanic Memorial, Washington, D.C. Photo credit

 

A.E.F. Memorial, Saint-Nazaire, France. Photo credit

 

Monument to the Discovery Faith, Huelva, Spain. Photo credit

In 1908, Gertrude opened the “Whitney Studio Gallery” in Greenwich Village where artists such as Jo Davidson and Robert Henri were invited to exhibit their work. In 1914, she established the “Whitney Studio Club” where young artists gathered to discuss and display their works. As the club expanded so did its headquarters and its programming. By 1931, Whitney’s club evolved into the Whitney Museum of American Art, on the site of today’s New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting, and Sculpture.

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, by Robert Henri, 1916

Gertrude decided to establish her museum after her offer of giving her 25-year collection of almost 700 modern artworks was turned down by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. When Gertrude established her museum in 1931, her assistant, Juliana Force, became its first director.

Today, Whitney is known as one of the leading icons in the art world. But no piece of Whitney’s work is as remarkable as her stubbornness and devotion to her work.

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, in Vogue magazine, by Adolf de Meyer, January 15, 1917

 

The Whitney Museum of American Art’s former (1966–2014) home on Madison Avenue Photo credit

 

Whitney Museum from the High Line in 2015  Photo credit

Harry Whitney died of pneumonia in 1930, leaving his widow and three children an estate valued $72 million. Gertrude certainly found a good use for all that wealth. She died 12 years later, of a heart condition, at the age of 67. Her daughter Flora assumed Gertrude’s duties at the Whitney Museum and was later succeeded by her daughter Flor Miller Biddle.

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She died 12 years later, of a heart condition, at the age of 67. Her daughter Flora assumed Gertrude’s duties at the Whitney Museum and was later succeeded by her daughter Flor Miller Biddle.