My Celebrity Relations

WHITNEY, Gertrude Vanderbilt [1875-1942] -- American sculptor and art patron

Relationship to me: 7C5 (by marriage)
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Gertrude Vanderbilt, the eldest daughter of Alice Claypoole Gwynne and Cornelius Vanderbilt, was educated by private tutors and attended Brearley School, New York. On August 25, 1896, she was married at Newport, Rhode Island, to Henry Payne Whitney, Esquire, son of William C. Whitney and nephew of Colonel Oliver Payne. She began the study of sculpture under Henry Anderson, of New York, and continued with James E. Fraser. Later she entered the Art Student's League and from there went to Paris to study with Andrew O 'Connor and Rodin.

While studying, she started the collection of modern American art which has become famous for the foresight and the liberal point of view which it indicates.

Determined to ground herself thoroughly she devoted herself intensively to her art without thought of exhibitions or possible commissions. The intelligence which she brought to her long apprenticeship, during which she evolved the strongly marked native style that has brought her just recognition, was not in vain. It equipped her to carry out in a definite and unified style monumental works. At root an American, her imagination was most appealed to by undertakings which offered her an opportunity to express her native point of view. For the same reason she soon developed a style distinguished, vivid, and American.

In 1908, she won her first recognition in the competition known as the "project of the three arts." This is the prize for the best design made in coöperation by an architect, a mural painter and a sculptor. This special grouping was for an outdoor swimming pool. The general design was by Grosvenor Atterbury; the decorative panels by Hugo Ballin, while Mrs. Whitney's work was the fountain with figure of Pan.

Her model for the Aztec Fountain, now in the Pan-American Building, Washington, District of Columbia, was first shown in 1912. The design is suggested by the art of the original rulers of Mexico. The same year she exhibited a head of a Spanish peasant, an admirable and strong piece of character work, which was bought by the Metropolitan Museum (which also owns the Caryatid).

Her Marble Fountain was awarded the bronze medal for Sculpture, at the San Francisco World's Fair, was purchased by the American Society of Peru and presented to the Peruvian Government. It was erected at Lima in 1924.

In 1914, came the appalling Titanic disaster, when that ill-fated liner was sent to the bottom on her maiden voyage. The women of America organized the Woman's Titanic Memorial Committee to raise funds and erect a statue in Potomac Park, Washington, District of Columbia. The design submitted by Mrs. Whitney won in open competition. The figure is 13 feet high and hewn out of a great rock of granite and commemorates the heroism of the men who raised the dauntless cry "Women and children first!" A replica of the head of this memorial, carved in marble and exhibited in Paris in 1921, was purchased by the French Government for the Luxembourg Museum. The French Government also owns the bronze group entitled "Red Cross," which is in the Musée des Invalides.

During the World War, Mrs. Whitney gave much of her time to relief work of various [p.96] kinds. In 1914, she established and maintained a hospital for wounded soldiers at Juilly, France, known as "American Ambulance Hospital, B." It was directed by a staff of twenty-five physicians, surgeons and nurses. It was later enlarged and continued for the duration of the war.

At the front she received impressions at first hand which she afterwards expressed in modelling a series of figures for "The Great Adventure of Young Men." Quoting Guy Pene du Bois in his article on Mrs. Whitney's exhibition of war sculpture: "Close she was to the men who were fighting and her vision was developed through sympathy and a realization of their suffering and heroism. In her war sketches her technique has an underlying quality that is mystic. Two large panels were conspicuous details of the Arch of Victory, which was erected at Twenty-fourth Street and Fifth Avenue as part of the formal welcome home of the Twenty-seventh Division, New York's Own, which returned in 1919, after seeing active service overseas. Although, technically speaking, her work on the panelled figures was extremely virile, yet it was notably the vehicle for the expression of deep pity for human suffering, feminine in inspiration, and free from the conventional symbolism that is without mystery."

"The memory of her service overseas was constantly revived when she returned home. She came to her studio from a war canteen, a war relief entertainment, or a war committee. And so she threw 'masses of clay together in the shapes of men,' men who were not merely men but men of war, men enveloped in the chaos of a mad dream, given their character by it.''1

On Memorial Day, May 1922, there was unveiled in Mitchell Square at 168th Street and Broadway, Washington Heights, New York, the monument to the soldiers, sailors and marines of Upper Manhattan who died in the World War, and provided for by the Washington Heights Memorial Association representing the residents of that and the Inwood sections of the city. The subject of Mrs. Whitney's design, carried out in bronze, symbolizes the combined heroism and humanity of the American warrior. A sailor, wounded and in a drooping posture, is caught in the arms of a stalwart marine, while inclining at one side is the helmeted doughboy, who bends to receive the last words of the dying sailor. This monument received from the New York Society of Architects the 1923 medal for "the most meritorious monument erected during the year."

The equestrian statue to be erected in memory of Buffalo Bill (Colonel William F. Cody) was unveiled at Cody, Wyoming, July 4, 1924.

In 1922, she was also commissioned to make a design for the memorial to the Fourth Division. This memorial is a single figure depicting the ideal American Soldier and is to be erected in Arlington Cemetery, Washington, District of Columbia.

In an article on the exhibition of Mrs. Whitney's work held in Paris, 1922, Mr. Léonce Bénédite, Director of the Luxembourg Museum, wrote: "A glance reveals that the two dominant characteristics of this sculptor's works are the virility of her technique and a marked sense for the decorative in her compositions. It is, therefore, not surprising that this dual quality should lead Mrs. Whitney to express herself monumentally."

When the Paris exhibit was invited to London it was received enthusiastically and one of those who wrote of it, Richard Fletcher, in the London Graphic, said: "These statues are real, poignant, decorative, as only good taste can decorate, and with a tenacious quality which comes from the woman's vision of life and history."

In December, 1922, Gertrude Whitney was requested to present a retrospective exhibition of her work. This was held at the Wildenstein Galleries, New York, and represented [p.97] twenty years of production. The following works were included:

Titanic Memorial, Duryea Memorial, Washington Heights and Inwood Memorial, Aztec Fountain, Arlington Fountain, "Gassed", Fourth Division Memorial, "Honorably Discharged", Chinoise, "In the Trenches", Buffalo Bill, Gray Stone Figure, Pan, Boy with Pipes, "Paganisme", The Aviator, Bacchante, Red Cross Group, Château Thierry, Colored Soldier, "Orders ", "His Last Charge", Jo Davison, Barbara, Caryatid, Wherefore, Monument to a Sculptor, "Home Again", "Sighted", Colonel X, Captain S, Refugees, Flora, Victory Arch Panels, The Nun, Portrait Medallion, Doors of El Dorado, Head, Titanic Memorial (Belgian Marble), Studies No. 1 and No. 2, Spanish Peasant, American Athlete, Panel from Field House, Lenox, "His Bunkie", Boy with Parrot, The Law, Lieutenant W., Stone Head, Sheilah Sketch for a War Memorial.
The Honorary Degree of Master of Arts was conferred upon her by New York University. [The Biographical Cyclopaedia of American Women]

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