Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney

18751942 | New York, United States

American art patron and sculptress.

In addition to being a rather academic sculptress, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney was the most important art patron of the American avant-garde between the two world wars. The heiress of the immense Vanderbilt fortune, and wife of businessman Harry Payne Whitney, in 1896 she took up marble sculpture, which she initially practised under a pseudonym. Her travels took her to Europe and in particular Paris, where she admired and was strongly influenced by the achievements of Auguste Rodin (Paganism Immortal, 1907). Following her work in the health services during the Great War, in 1921 she made a series of small, more expressive and more realist bronzes that offer a distressing and heroic image of the fighting. However, most of her sculptures were produced in response to public commissions for allegorical works. With his arms spread to form the shape of a cross, the figure on the Titanic Memorial – for which the project was completed in 1914 and the statue carved by a practitioner and inaugurated in 1931 – uses the strong image of Christian sacrifice to pay tribute to the men who heroically gave up their lives so that women and children could be saved.

But Whitney’s fame is principally due to her patronage. She collected works by the great artists in Europe (Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp), supported the Russian avant-gardes, and helped Constantin Brancusi. To encourage the American avant-gardes, she bought works by rejected artists and in 1918 opened the Whitney Studio Club, a gallery that would become an important place for artists to meet and exchange between the wars. In 1931 she opened the Whitney Museum of American Art. This institution, one of the great New York museums dedicated to American art, would present more than 600 works collected by the sculptress that she had offered to the Metropolitan Museum of Art but been refused. Founded in 1920, the review The Arts, which Whitney supported, became one of the leading platforms for artists who rejected the strict rules of the National Academy of Design. She thus provided new visibility to American art, represented in particular by Edward Hopper and the Ashcan School of New York artists whose primary subject was the social reality of America at the start of the 20th century, and included in its ranks the artists Robert Henri, John Sloan and Malvina Hoffman.

Anne Lepoittevin

Translated from French by Timothy Stroud.

From the Dictionnaire universel des créatrices
© 2013 Des femmes – Antoinette Fouque
© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions
Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Caryatid, 1912, cast 1913, bronze, 47.6 x 16.5 x 14 cm, 18 3/4 x 6 1/2 x 5 1/2 in.

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Head of a Spanish Peasant, 1911, bronze, 41.3 x 31.8 x 28.6 cm, 16 1/4 x 12 1/2 x 11 1/4 in.

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, To the Morrow, 1935–1945

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