Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney
Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney was an American sculptor, art patron/collector, and founder of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. She was a prominent socialite and hostess, born into the wealthy Vanderbilt family. Despite her financial security and social status, Gertrude suffered from post-partum depression, exacerbated by her husband Henry's infidelity.
Seeking refuge, Gertrude found solace in art during a visit to Paris, and soon became a sculptor. Though her family and her husband Henry scoffed at her newfound passion for art, she persisted, providing emotional and financial support for other struggling artists along the way.
In 1918, Gertrude opened the Whitney Studio, an exhibition space for artists who were having trouble getting their work shown in museums and galleries. Gertrude's support was instrumental to the New York Realist movement, and for artists like Robert Henri.
Over the next decade, Gertrude went on to collect hundreds of American modernist pieces, which she tried to donate to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Museum denied her donation, stating they weren't interested in any more pieces by American artists. Determined to gain recognition for American artists, Gertrude and her husband opened the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1931.
Located in Manhattan, the Whitney contains over 21,000 paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, films, videos, and artifacts by more than 3,000 artists, with emphasis on the work of living artists. The museum's annual and biennial exhibitions have long been a venue for younger and lesser-known artists whose work is showcased there.
Whitney's passion helped shape the careers of numerous American artists ranging from Georgia O'Keefe to Keith Haring, and her legacy continues even today.