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Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney papers, 1851-1975, bulk, 1888-1942

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney papers, 1851-1975, bulk, 1888-1942

Whitney, Gertrude Vanderbilt, 1875-1942

Art patron, Sculptor

Representative image for Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney papers, 1851-1975, bulk, 1888-1942

This site provides access to the papers of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in the Archives of American Art that were digitized in 2014. The bulk of the papers have been scanned, and total 49,453 images.

Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Collection Information

Size: 35.8 linear feet

Summary: The Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney papers measure approximately 35.8 linear feet and date from 1851 to 1975, with the bulk of the material dating from 1888 to 1942. The collection documents the life and work of the art patron and sculptor, especially her promotion of American art and artists, her philanthropy and war relief work, her commissions for memorial sculpture, and her creative writing. Papers include correspondence, journals, writings, project files, scrapbooks, photographs, art work, printed material, and miscellaneous personal papers.

Biographical/Historical Note

New York art patron and sculptor, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1875-1942), was the eldest daughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and Alice Gwynne Vanderbilt, and founder of the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Provenance

The Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney papers were donated in 1981 and 1991 by Whitney's granddaughter, Flora Miller Irving.

Related Materials

Funding

Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

A Finding Aid to the Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney Papers, 1851-1975, bulk 1888-1942, in the Archives of American Art
AAA.whitgert
Author
Finding aid prepared by Jennifer Meehan
Biographical/Historical note
New York art patron and sculptor, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1875-1942), was the eldest daughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and Alice Gwynne Vanderbilt, and founder of the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Whitney was born January 9, 1875 in New York City, the. She was educated by private tutors and attended Brearley School in New York. From the time she was a young girl, she kept journals of her travels and impressions of the people she met, and engaged in creative pursuits such as sketching and writing stories. In 1896, she was married to Harry Payne Whitney. They had three children, Flora, Cornelius, and Barbara.
In 1900, Whitney began to study sculpture under Hendrik Christian Anderson, and then under James Fraser. Later, she studied with Andrew O'Connor in Paris. From the time she started studying sculpture, her interest in art grew, as did her particular concern for American art and artists. In 1907, she organized an art exhibition at the Colony Club, which included several contemporary American paintings. She also opened a studio on MacDougal Alley, which became known as the Whitney Studio and was a place where shows and prize competitions were held. (She also had other studios in Westbury, Long Island and Paris, France.) Over the years, her patronage of art included buying work, commissioning it, sponsoring it, exhibiting it, and financially supporting artists in America and abroad. From 1911 on, she was aided in her work by Juliana Force, who started out as Whitney's secretary, was responsible for art exhibitions at the Whitney Studio, and became the first director of the Whitney Museum of American Art.
The first recognition Whitney received for her sculpture came in 1908 when a project on which she had collaborated (with Grosvenor Atterbury and Hugo Ballin) won a prize for best design from the Architectural League of New York. The following year she received a commission to do a fountain sculpture for the Pan-American Building in Washington, D. C. She went on to do numerous other commissioned works over the next several decades, including: a fountain for the New Arlington Hotel in Washington D.C. (the design of which was reproduced in various sizes and materials, one cast being submitted to the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition where it won a bronze medal and a later cast being installed on the campus of McGill University, Montreal, Canada in 1930); the Titanic Memorial (designed in 1913 and erected in 1930); the Buffalo Bill Memorial (1924) in Cody, Wyoming; the Columbus Memorial (1929) in Port of Palos, Spain; the Peter Stuyvesant statue in Stuyvesant Square (1939); and
The Spirit of Flight
(1939) for the New York World's Fair. In 1916, she had her first one-man show at the Whitney Studio, another at the Newport Art Association, and a retrospective at the San Francisco Art Association Palace of Fine Arts. A traveling exhibition in the Midwest followed in 1918.
During the First World War, Whitney was involved with numerous war relief activities, most notably establishing and supporting a hospital in Juilly, France. She made several trips to France during the war, keeping a journal and eventually publishing a piece on the hospital in several newspapers. Her sculpture during this period was largely focused on war themes. In 1919, she exhibited some of these works at the Whitney Studio in a show called "Impressions of War." In the years after the war, she was also commissioned to do several war memorials, including the Washington Heights War Memorial (1922) and the St. Nazaire Memorial (1926) commemmorating the landing of the American Expeditionary Force in France in 1917.
In 1918, Whitney opened the Whitney Studio Club, which served as pioneering organization for American art, putting on exhibition programs and offering social space and recreational amenities to its members (one point numbering over four hundred artists living in New York). She planned an "Overseas Exhibition" of American art, which traveled to Paris and other European cities in 1920-1921, and had her own shows in Paris and London in 1921. In 1928, the Whitney Studio Club was transformed into an art gallery, known as the Whitney Studio Galleries and directed by Juliana Force, which eventually became the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1931.
Whitney pursued creative writing throughout her life, but beginning in the 1930s writing became her principle means of creative expression. Over the years, she produced numerous manuscripts for stories, novels, and play. One novel,
Walking the Dusk
, was published in 1932 under the pseudonym L. J. Webb. Beginning in 1940, Whitney took a "Professional Writing" course at Columbia University with Helen Hull, which resulted in the production of numerous short stories. In 1941, she collaborated with Ronald Bodley to adapt one of her stories as a play and attempted to get it produced, although unsuccessfully.
In 1934, Whitney was involved in a custody battle for her niece, Gloria Vanderbilt (daughter of her late brother, Reginald Vanderbilt and his wife, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt). In an agreement reached by the court, custody was awarded to Whitney and visitation rights to Gloria's mother. Litigation continued in the ensuing years.
In 1935, Whitney established the World's Fair Five Organization, with Juliana Force and four architects, to work on preparing a plan for the site of the 1939 New York World's Fair at Flushing Meadow, although the fair's own Board of Design ended up coming up with its own plan.
Whitney continued her work in sculpture, writing, art patronage, and philanthropy throughout the remaining years of her life. She died on April 18, 1942.
Arrangement
The Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney papers are arranged into twelve series:
Series 1: Miscellaneous Personal Papers, 1888-1947, 1975 (Boxes 1-3, 33-34, OV 42; 2.5 linear feet)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1889-1949, 1959 (Boxes 3-9; 6 linear feet)
Series 3: Journals, circa 1886-1939 (Boxes 9-12, 33; 2.5 linear feet)
Series 4: Whitney Studio Club and Whitney Museum of American Art Files, 1921-1943 (Box 12; 0.2 linear feet)
Series 5: Sculpture Files, 1900-1960 (bulk 1909-1942) (Boxes 12-15; 3 linear feet)
Series 6: Philanthropy Files, 1902-1923 (bulk 1915-1920) (Boxes 15-17; 2 linear feet)
Series 7: Writings, 1889-1942, 1974 (Boxes 17-26; 10 linear feet)
Series 8: Scrapbooks, 1893-1942 (Boxes 26-27, 33, 35; 1.5 linear feet)
Series 9: Printed Material, 1859-1942 (Boxes 27-28, 36; 0.8 linear feet)
Series 10: Photographs, 1862-1942 (Boxes 28-32, 36-41, OV 43-51; 6.4 linear feet)
Series 11: Artwork, 1871-1930s (Boxes 32, 41, OV 52-54; 0.8 linear feet)
Series 12: Blueprints, 1913-1945 (OV 55; 0.1 linear feet)
Scope and Content Note
The Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney papers measure approximately 35.8 linear feet and date from 1851 to 1975, with the bulk of the material dating from 1888 to 1942. The collection documents the life and work of the art patron and sculptor, especially her promotion of American art and artists, her philanthropy and war relief work, her commissions for memorial sculpture, and her creative writing. Papers include correspondence, journals, writings, project files, scrapbooks, photographs, artwork, printed material, two sound recordings, and miscellaneous personal papers.
Material relating to more personal aspects of Whitney's life include school papers, a paper doll book dating from her childhood, financial material, interviews, awards and honorary degrees, address and telephone books, committee files, and other items. Correspondence consists of incoming and outgoing letters concerning both personal and professional matters, including her patronage of the arts and sponsorship of artists, her sculpture commissions and exhibitions, and her war relief work and other philantrophic activities. Also found are family correspondence and correspondence received by the Flora Whitney Miller and the Whitney Museum of American Art after Whitney's death. Journals include personal ones that she kept periodically from the time she was a child to near the end of her life, in which she recorded her travels, her impressions of people, her experiences with friends, and her thoughts on art, among other topics; and social ones, in which she recorded dinners and dances attended, and people invited to different social gatherings, and in which she collected invitations received and accepted.
Scattered files can be found that relate to the Whitney Studio Club and the Whitney Museum of American Art, consisting of notebooks, catalogs, a financial report, and other material. Files relating to Whitney's own sculpture projects are more extensive and consist of correspondence, contracts, printed material, notes, financial material for proposed and completed commissions for fountains, memorials, and monuments. The Whitney Museum of American Art, rather than Whitney herself, seems to have kept these files. Files relating to Whitney's philanthropic activities span from the time just before to just after the First World War and consist of correspondence, minutes, reports, and printed material stemming from her contributions to charities and war relief organizations, her sponsorship of the war hospital in Juilly, France, and her support of the Greenwich House Social Settlement.
Whitney's writings include extensive drafts, and handwritten and typed manuscripts and copies of novels, plays, and stories, as well as some autobiographical and early writings, notes and writings on art, and clippings of published writings, documenting her principle means of creative expression towards the end of her life. Also found are some writings by others. Scrapbooks consist of clippings, photographs, letters and other material, compiled by Whitney, Flora Whitney Miller, and possibly others, documenting Whitney's public life, her sculpture commissions and exhibitions, exhibitions at the Whitney Studio, the war hospital in Juilly, France, the death of Harry Payne Whitney in 1930, and the sickness and death of Whitney in 1942.
Photographs include ones of the Whitney and Vanderbilt families, ones of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (including portraits taken by Baron Adolf de Meyer and Count Jean de Strelecki), ones of various Vanderbilt and Whitney residences and of Whitney's studios, ones of Whitney's sculpture exhibitions as well as exhibitions at her studio, and ones of her sculptures, as well as some miscellaneous and unidentified ones. Artwork consists of sketchbooks and sketches by Whitney (including sketches for sculptures) and artwork by others (including a sketchbook of Howard Cushing's containing a sketch of her and albums of World War I lithographs) collected by Whitney. Also found amongst the collection are printed material (clippings, exhibition catalogs, programs, and publications) and blueprints (including drawings for Whitney's studio on MacDougal Alley and various of her sculptures).
Provenance
The Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney papers were donated in 1981 and 1991 by Whitney's granddaughter, Flora Miller Irving.
Related Archival Materials note
Related material found in the Archives includes Research Material on Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney compiled by Flora Miller Irving and the Whitney Museum of American Art artists' files and records, available on microfilm only (originals are located in the Whitney Museum of American Art). Also found in the Archives of American Art's Miscellaneous Exhibition Catalog Collection are a bundle of Whitney Studio Club and Mrs. H. P. Whitney's Studio catalogs and announcements.
Processing Information note
Large portions of the papers were microfilmed separately and previously available on reels 2288-2289, 2356-2375, 4861, NWH4, and N587-N591; these reels are no longer in circulation. Some of the the collection was also lent for microfilming at an earlier date and cataloged as a separate collection; this material was later donated. All portions, including the earliest loaned materials, were merged, arranged and described by Jennifer Meehan in 2006, with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.
Five platinum prints of Whitney taken by Baron Adolf de Meyer and one toned silver gelatin print of Whitney taken by Amemiya received conservation treatment at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts in the late 1980s.
In preparation for scanning, Series 2 was rearranged using an alphabetical arrangement to facilitate online access. The bulk of the collection was digitized in 2012-2013, also with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Additional Forms Available

The bulk of the collection was digitized in 2012 and 2013 and is available via the Archives of American Art's website. Materials which have not been scanned include duplicates; cards and envelopes from condolence bouquets, extensive edited draft versions of manuscripts; some news clippings; the full text of publications (in many cases covers, title pages and relevant pages of publications have been scanned); some large format material such as blueprints; some photographs of works of art; negatives; blank versos of photographs; and photographs with permission restrictions.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

Restrictions on Use

Any citation of this collection must include the following title designated by the donor: Whitney Museum of American Art, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney papers. Gift of Flora Miller Irving.

How to Cite This Collection

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney papers, 1851-1975, bulk, 1888-1942. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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