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Whitney, Gertrude Vanderbilt

American, 1875 - 1942

Vanderbilt, Gertrude Cornelius; Whitney, Harry Payne Mrs.


Descended from the Dutch van der Bilt family which came to American in 1650, Gertrude was the great granddaughter of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, who amassed the family fortune through railroad investments. Gertrude was one of six children of Cornelius and Alice Gwynn Vanderbilt. In 1896 Gertrude married banker and sportsman Harry Payne Whitney (1872-1930) and shortly thereafter began to devote herself to her art. Her ultimate success and status as an American sculptor belied initial public amusement at the notion of a talented wealthy society matron. She studied at the Art Students League and later, in Paris, with Auguste Rodin. She received numerous commissions for outdoor sculpture and monuments, including: the Titanic memorial in Washington; the Victory Arch in Madison Square, New York; The Christopher Columbus memorial lighthouse in Palos, Spain; the William F. (Buffalo Bill) Cody Memorial at the entrance to Yellowstone Park; the Fountain of El Dorado, San Francisco; and a group entitled "To The Morrow" for the New York World's Fair of 1939. Perhaps Mrs. Whitneys' most enduring legacy is the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, which she established in 1931, housed initially on the site of the Whitney Studio Club, which Ms. Whitney had organized in 1917 as a place for young artists to exhibit. In 1934 Gertrude Whitney was involved in the celebrated court battle for custody of her neice, Gloria, with her sister-in-law, Mrs. Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, widow of Gertrude's brother C. Reginald Vanderbilt. Gertrude was ultimately granted primary custody of the child. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney had three children of her own: a son, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, and two daughters: Mrs. G. Macculloch Miller and Mrs. Barclie McKee Henry.

The New York Times 18 April 1942: 15:1 [obituary].
Turner, Jane, ed. The Dictionary of Art. 34 vols. New York and London, 1996: 33:150.
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