Women of the World Wednesday
Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1875-1942) was born into the aristocracy of New York. She was educated by private tutors and married Harry Payne Whitney at the age of 21. She had three children, Cornelius, Flora Payne, and Barbara.
While Whitney remained in the New York social scene, she also studied sculpture, learning from renowned public sculptors such as Hendrik Christian Andersen, James Earle Fraser, and Andrew O’Connor. Her art became popular in the art communities in America and Europe.
Not wanting her famous family name to influence the critics of her art, Whitney used a pseudonym when exhibiting her artwork. But in 1910, when her sculpture was becoming well regarded, she began to exhibit under her own name.
Soon after, she set up her own studio space in Greenwich Village, New York City, and also became a patron of the arts. Whitney provided her studio to struggling young artists who could not afford to exhibit with art dealers.
In 1929, Whitney offered her sizeable collection of American Art to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, offering an endowment for a new wing for the collection. The Met rejected her offer, and she opened her own museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, in 1931.
Whitney continued to sculpt, and her work began to form as a result of reactions to the issues of her time. In 1914, she won a $50,000 commission for the Titanic Memorial. During World War I, Whitney personally attended wounded soldiers in France and founded a field hospital. Her work reflected the emotional tragedies of the war. Whitney worked up until her passing in 1939 at the age of 67.
While Whitney is well known for the establishment of her museum, and for her patronage of the arts, the impact and dynamism of her public art sculptures and monuments is often downplayed. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney defied the expectations of the New York social scene, paving the way for female artists at a time when they were overlooked.
Source: "Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney." Authors and Artists for Young Adults. Vol. 57. Detroit: Gale, 2004. Biography in Context. Web. 6 Dec. 2013.
Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Frances Benjamin Johnston Collection. LC-USZC2-6127