Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney

From Academic Kids

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (January 9, 1875 - April 18, 1942) was a member of the prominent United States Vanderbilt family.

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Gertrude Whitney

Gertrude was born in New York City. 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, Cornelius, and Barbara.

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 in New York City then with Auguste Rodin in Paris. Eventually, she maintained art studios in Greenwich Village, New York and in Passy, a fashionable Parisian suburb. 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 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. 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 25 year collection of modern art works.

Gertrude Whitney sculpted the Christopher Columbus memorial lighthouse in Palos, Spain. Her numerous United States works include:

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 Juilly in the Seine-et-Marne département in France. Following the end of the War, she was involved in the creation of a number of commemorative sculptures.

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 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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