Newport Art Museum’s Artists’ Ball showcases “beautiful things”

Featured image
Robert Henri, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, 1916; Oil on canvas.
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Gift of Flora Whitney Miller, 86.70.3
Howard Gardner Cushing’s exquisite paintings are well known to Newporters.  Less known is the intimate relationship and mutual love of art he shared with sculptress, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney.

From the summer in Newport where they met in 1893, Howard Gardiner Cushing and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney would establish a lifelong love and friendship through the study and creation of their work in painting and sculpture. As young artists, Whitney and Cushing would travel abroad studying classical art in Europe where Whitney wrote, “No one I would rather see beautiful things with than this man.  There is that about him which is not only sympathetic but strong and magnetic.”

L. to r.: Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Daphne, 1933; Bronze; Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, The Kiss, 1933-35; Stone. Private collection.

After Cushing’s untimely death, Whitney, with a coterie of friends, commissioned the Cushing Memorial Gallery in Newport, designed by William Delano who based the design on Whitney’s Old Westbury Sculpture Studio in New York.  It was in Whitney’s studio stairwell that Cushing painted his largest commission, a symbolist Ballet Russes influenced mural featuring Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in a Léon Bakst tunic and his wife and muse, Ethel Cochrane.

L. to r.: Howard Gardiner Cushing, Ida Rubinstein (1883-1960), c. 1912, Oil on canvas. Private collection; Howard Gardiner Cushing, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in Bakst Costume with Fleurs du Mal, 1911-12, Oil on canvas; Whitney Studio Mural Panel, center upper landing, U7. Private collection.
Howard Gardiner Cushing
Ethel Cushing in the Ballet “Scheherazade” with Standing Attendants and Fleurs du Mal, 1911-1912
Oil on canvas
Whitney Studio Mural Panel Upper Landing
Private collection

Fast forward 100 years, Whitney’s sculpture and Cushing’s paintings are being shown in adjacent galleries at the Newport Art Museum’s Morris and Cushing Galleries.  Her dear friend Howard Gardiner Cushing’s paintings are on view along with the rarely seen before murals, purchased and rescued from obscurity by granddaughter, Alexandra Howard Cushing, and other members of the Cushing family after extensive restoration by Lowy Fine Art.  The Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney sculpture show was made possible in part by the Norton Museum of Art in Palm Beach.

Alexandra Cushing Howard and Flora Miller Biddle with a panel from The Whitney Studio Mural by Howard Gardiner Cushing.

The exhibition culminates with one of Newport’s most anticipated summer events, the Artists’ Ball, a tradition dating back to 1927. Over 300 guests attended this year’s Ball; many dressed for the occasion with a nod to the exhibit. Under a white tent an enormous hanging garden created a chandelier effect, backed by trees covered in sparkling lights while DJ Mad Marj Gubelmann worked her magic. Anne Baker, Charlie Burns, Monique Coleman and the Hon. Edmond Harmsworth served as this year’s Ball co-chairs.

Gala co-chairs Monique Coleman and Annie Baker.

Seth Watsky of Christie’s conducted an auction with lively bidding on two triptychs created by six artists for the benefit.  A featured item was a New York City weekend culminating in a private visit and tour of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s Old Westbury Studio, where the famed murals of Howard Cushing were painted.

Many members of the Cushing family attended, including Alexandra Cushing Howard, Caterine Milinaire Cushing, Howard and Lucia Cushing, Nora Cushing, Johnny Cushing & Victoria Woodhull Cushing.  Other notable guests were the museum’s Executive Director Nora Diedrich, Steve & Brooke Richter, Elizabeth Kahane, Paul & Diana Szapary, David Ford, Elizabeth & Bill Leatherman, Paul Miller, Stuart Sundlun, Irene Aitken, Anne Foxley, Nick & Alex Benson, Sheika Egan, Guy & Mary Van Pelt, Peter & Joanna de Neufville, Andrea Kass, Louis & Alexandra Rose.

L. to r.: Kara Sundlun and Dennis House; Rebecca Nesbitt and Rupert Nesbitt.
Stuart Sundlun and David Ford.
L. to r.: Savanna Cowley and Eames Yates; Nick Mele and Molly Mele.
Brownie Warburton and Gala co-chair Charlie Burns.
L. to r.: Brandyn Brunelle and Ryan Elsman; Nicky Irving and Elizabeth Leatherman.
L. to r.: Loriana de Crescenzo; Eames Yates, Savanna Cowley, and Molly Mele.
Rod O’Hanley, Richard Crisson, John Harris, and Linda Sawyer.
L. to r.: Elias Buchanan Ohrstrom, Jane Smith, and Esmond Harmsworth; Nina Delano and Wirt Blaffer.
Brooke Richter and Steven Richter.
L. to r.: Benedict Leca and museum president Norah Diedrich; Trudy Coxe and Diana Prince.
Marianna Baker, Phil Wilson, and friend.
L. to r.: Howard Cushing and Lucia Cushing; Joanna Baker de Neufville and Christina Gee.
Gala co-chair Esmond Harmsworth, David Ford, and Joshua Janson.
L. to r.: Leslie Hull and Mark Hull; Nonie Madden and Norah Cushing.
Didi Cowley and Elizabeth McMillen.
L. to r.: Jamie Coleman and Edie Cushing; amie Coleman and gala co-chair Monique Coleman.
George Baker, Annie Baker, Bill Kahane, and Elizabeth Kahane.
Alix Flood and Nick Benson.
Marjorie “DJ Mad Marj” Gubelmann.
The scene on the dance floor. Derek Limbocker still has the moves.
Dancing to DJ Mad Marj.

Photographs by Nick Mele.

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