Stam Gallery is honored to represent the estate sculpture content of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney's Old Westbury Studio and Gardens.
"INTIMATE WORKS FROM HER STUDIO"
May 17 - July 15 2018 - exhibit opening reception 6 PM May 17
Exhibition of never before seen by the public sculptural works ranging from small maquettes to monumental size works.
Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1875 - 1942) is best known today as the founder of the Whitney Studio Club in 1918, a gathering and exhibit space for America’s best artists, which by 1931 became formally known as the Whitney Museum of American Art. She was America’s most influential patron of modern American art. She is much less remembered as an artist, a sculptor of great lifetime achievements, arguably America's most important public monument sculptor of her lifetime, including the “Titanic Memorial” in Washington, D.C.
Prior to the recent retrospective exhibition at the Norton Museum (now on a two year road trip to several museums around the country) the last time America visited her works was over 75 years ago at the Whitney Museum Memorial Exhibit, held immediately after her death in 1942. So her name as one of America’s premier artists of the early years of the 20th century has receded into the art world's near ancient history.
In a recent review of the Norton Museum retrospective, the art critic Eric Gibson of the Wall Street Journal wrote:
"Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney is best known as the founder of the Whitney Museum of American Art. But she was also a sculptor, and a very good one. Her memorial to the victims of the Titanic, in Washington, is one of the greatest works of commemorative art ever produced in this country."
Cornelius Vanderbilt II, Gertrude’s father, was America’s richest man in 1900. She was born into the uppermost reaches of American wealth and society. And she married Harry Payne Whitney, the heir to only modestly less of a fortune.
By the social standards of Old Westbury, Long Island and Newport, Rhode Island, commercialism was considered a coarse and low class activity. Within the circles of her family’s social class, the Whitneys, Vanderbilts, Paynes, etc. being a creative artist would be marginally tolerated. However the act of selling art was totally unacceptable. Therefore, she was particular about having her sculptures produced directly under her personal supervision and, almost without exception, in editions limited to ONE. Since none were ever intended to be sold at exhibitions, there was no purpose in creating larger editions even for her most desirable works. So virtually every Whitney sculptural work is unique, one of a kind. No editions of multiples were allowed for Gertrude.
As many American sculptors of her generation, initially she was under the influence of Auguste Rodin. For Gertrude, Rodin’s free handling of materials, along with her sometimes scandalous emotionalism of her subjects, represented both a new approach to sculpture and a way to relieve her0 long bottled-up frustrations.
Later she worked in a realist style that was more innovative for her time, the sculptural equivalent of works by her painter friends, the Ashcan School of painters, such as John Sloan, William Glackens, George Luks, Robert Henri and others, with whom she had shared her work in numerous exhibitions.
In 1914 Whitney was awarded the commission for the Titanic Memorial in Washington, producing an over-life-size, loosely draped male figure standing with arms outstretched and face tilted slightly upward. In its combination of formal simplicity, rhetorical restraint and subtle symbolism, it has few equals in American public sculpture.
In the same year she sculpted “Chinoise” a life size image of herself standing in the pose of a bodhisattva, reflecting an important part of her Asian visual iconography. The original model of this work is on view here at Stam Gallery, in its marble version it is in the permanent collection of the Whitney Museum. At the time of its creation it was considered highly important as her final break from classical and Rodin influences, and as her first “new modern” creation.
In the Stam Gallery show, along with a number of intimate family portraits of children and regal adults, stands a powerful figure of Captain Guardabassi (1917), Gertrude’s very close and intimate friend, dressed in his military uniform, with focused glaze bravely moving into the future. The work is full of emotion reflecting the artist’s great affection and respect for him.
In some critics opinion ‘The Law” (sometimes referred to as “Youth”) created in 1922 is the most extraordinary impressive carved stone image in this show. It depicts a young man in deep thought seated on a pair of symbolic wings. Is he contemplating all the mysteries of life or just choices of justice? In either case, it is a wonderful image from the artist’s gardens in Old Westbury.
Art of the first half of the 20th century was dominated by male academics, artists and critics. Creative women of the time were allowed only into the fringes of the art world, and their standing in the community tended to reflect mild and paternal support, not dissimilar to the gentile attitudes of the rest of society toward the “weaker gender”. In general, women artist’s many and great contributions to movements of important art trends in America had been mostly dismissed.