A sculptress, art collector, and founder of the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Born as Gertrude Vanderbilt in New York City to an upper-class family and received private education from a young age. She got married when she was 21 years old, to a member of the wealthy Whitney family and the couple had three children.
A visit to Europe in the early 1900s exposed her to the art world and inspired her to become a sculptress. She studied art in New York, and later in Paris. At first, she presented her work under an assumed name because she was afraid that she wouldn’t be taken seriously both as a woman and as a socialite. The fact that neither her husband nor her family were supportive of her work contributed to her fears.
At the age of 32, Whitney opened a studio which later evolved to the Whitney Studio Galleries. A year later she won her first prize for one of her sculptures. During WW1, Whitney invested both time and money to relief efforts and established a hospital for wounded soldiers in France. She used to draw the soldiers, and those sketches became the first drafts of her famous memorials in New York City.
Over the years, Whitney’s art received critical acclaim worldwide. Her work can be found in many public areas in the US, and a few in Europe, among them, are ‘Women’s Titanic Memorial’ and ‘The Founders of the Daughters of the American Revolution’ memorial, both in Washington, DC.
Throughout the years, she collected artworks of young American artists, encouraged the advancement of women artists and organized exhibitions to introduce them to the public. In 1930 she established the Whitney Museum of American Art in NYC and appointed a woman to manage it.
Whitney died in 1942, at age 67. Her daughter became the head of the Whitney Museum, and her granddaughter followed her upon her mother’s death.
More Interesting Anecdotes:
- At a young age, she used to keep small drawings in her personal journals.
- She founded a new Wing at the American Museum of Natural History, which is named after her.
- She offered to donate her art collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but the conservative director refused. His decline encouraged her to open her own art institute.