Palm Beach Social Diary

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Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney's direct descendants and extended family members, among them, left to right, Alfred G. Vanderbilt, Linda Miller, John LeBoutillier, Marylou Whitney, John Hendrickson, Susan Humes, and Leverett Miller. Family and friends convened for a private reception at the Norton Museum of Art before the opening of the first exhibition of GVW's sculpture since her death in 1942.

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney exhibition opens at Norton Museum of Art

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s historical prominence is most often defined by her dynastic lineage and philanthropy, particularly as founder of the Whitney Museum of American Art, rather than her proficient skills, aesthetic and accomplishments as a noteworthy 20th century sculptor. Great wealth enabled her sketches to be transformed into bronze and stone works. Her social links assured commissions. Nonetheless, these assets and abilities did not guarantee her an enduring appreciation as a significant artist. GVW was last the subject of a major exhibition, described then as a “Memorial Exhibition,” held between January 26 and February 28, 1943, at The Whitney.


Palm Beach, c. 1895. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, fifth from right, and her fiancé Harry Payne Whitney, second from right, arrive at Palm Beach aboard the Vanderbilt family’s private railroad car. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney papers, 1851-1975, bulk 1888-1942. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

75 years later, almost to the day, the Norton Museum of Art has mounted Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney: Sculpture, an insightful retrospective concentrated on the diverse range of GVW’s work. Ellen Roberts, the Norton’s Harold and Anne Berkley Smith Curator of American Art, has assembled 45 sculptures and drawings, many rarely seen loans from private collections, documenting her development from studied classicism to the symbolic expressionism in monumental works to the stark realism expressed in her World War I tableaux. The showcase is supplemented with paintings and representations of GVW as the object of other artist’s portrayal. The must-see exhibition is an introduction to the Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney Papers at The Smithsonian containing 49,453 images of her art and life.

The night before the retrospective’s opening Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s descendants and friends gathered at the Norton Museum for a private viewing and reception, making for a veritable genealogic convergence of grands, great-grands, cousins, nephews, and in-laws of one of America’s venerated families. Some even wearing GVW’s signature red fingernail polish. Great-grand John LeBoutillier organized the gathering and offered lighthearted remarks about his illustrative family.


Norton Museum of Art, 2018. The Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney: Sculpture retrospective opens 75 years after her memorial exhibition at The Whitney.

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney: Sculptor
Norton Museum of Art
1451 South Olive Avenue – West Palm Beach
January 25, 2018 – April 29, 1918


Norton Museum of Art, text.
Norton Museum of Art, GVW exhibition entrance.
Norton Museum of Art, text. “She turned to sculpture for professional and emotional fulfillment and a way to define herself apart from her money.” Ellen Roberts, curator.
Ellen Roberts, Harold and Anne Berkley Smith Curator of American Art.
The exhibition is accompanied by a 120-page, fully illustrated catalogue with text by Ellen Roberts and a chronology by Erica Ando, associate curator of education for public programs.
Chinoise, modeled 1913, cared 1914. Limestone. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Gift of the artist; 31.79.
A metal Chinoise made an appearance in 1923 at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney papers, 1851-1975, bulk 1888-1942. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Chinoise, profile view. Limestone. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Gift of the artist; 31.79.
Harry Payne Whitney, 1906. Bronze. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, sculptor. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney Studio, Old Westbury.
Great grands, Whitney Miller, Penelope Miller, and Maria-Flora Miller.
GVW grandson Leverett Miller and his wife Linda Miller with GVW’s Red Cross uniform.
Tom Zacharias and Clelia LeBoutillier Zacharias.
Polly Wilson.
Great grands John Boutillier and his sister Susan Humes admire their great-grandmother’s work. John lives at GVW’s Old Westbury studio.
GVW’s Rodin-inspired work.

Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt with a GVW plaster cast, believed as a memorial to the sinking of the RMS Lusitania. In a published interview, Vanderbilt recalled “From the earliest age, I remember my grandfather’s portrait at my father’s house. ‘Who is that man?’ and I remember being told the story, about how this great ship sank, and that he gave his life preserver to a woman, even though he couldn’t swim. So I had this great hero image to aspire to. He was the hero of our family.”

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

Alfred Vanderbilt and Elizabeth Van Munchen.
Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, 1916. Robert Henri, artist. Oil on canvas. On loan for the exhibition, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
Norton Museum of Art, text.
Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, 1916 and 1919. Portrayed by Jo Davidson, sculptor. Private Collection.
The iconic Titanic Memorial, model. Washington, DC.
Titanic Memorial, detail.

Linda Hough and Mason Phelps.
Todd Jennard, Andrew Guiterrez, and Ron Neal.
Great grands Aurora Tower and Alfred Tower with their mother Lucy (Mrs. Whitney) Tower.
Barbara, 1913. Plaster. GVW’s daughter Barbara Whitney, subtitled The Wallflower.
Norton Museum of Art, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney exhibition.
Norton Museum of Art, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney exhibition.
Norton Museum of Art, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney exhibition.
The World War I sculptures are especially poignant.
The great grands, Maria Flora Miller, Penelope Miller, and Whitney Munn Miller with Marylou (Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt) Whitney.

Tim Key and Susan Humes.

Norton Museum of Art, original façade. Diana and Actaeon. 1925. Paul Manship, sculptor. In 1924 Manship’s work was shown at Glen Hodges’ gallery on South County Road along with sculptors Mrs. Harry Payne (Gertrude Vanderbilt) Whitney and Mrs. Harry Payne (Harriette Gowan) Bingham.
The photograph of GVW in her studio was taken in 1936. Herbert Gehr, photographer. LIFE collection/Getty Images.

Model for American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) Memorial, c. 1924-1925. Bronze. Saint Nazaire, France. The Preservation Society of Newport.
Poster. June 1926.
GVW in studio with Model for American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) Memorial. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney papers, 1851-1975, bulk 1888-1942. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Model for American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) Memorial, c. 1924-1925. Detail. The Preservation Society of Newport.
Leverett Saltonstall Miller was inducted into the Polo Hall of Fame in 2017.
Marylou Whitney.
John Hendrickson.

Henry Joyce and Hope Alswang, director and chief executive officer of the Norton Museum of Art.
Sam Ankerson, deputy director of the Norton Museum of Art.
The family reception had uproarious moments.
Leverett Miller and Carey O’Donnell.
John LeBoutillier organized the family’s event. John’s mother Pamela (Tower) LeBoutillier was the daughter of Roderick Tower and Flora Payne Whitney.
John LeBoutillier and Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt with GVW’s Memorial cast.

When I arrived for the next day’s press preview I was reminded that the next generation will know Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney was a sculptor, perhaps fulfilling her dream. The Norton’s new Foster + Partners designed 42,000-square-foot addition will double the venue’s education space.

Photography by Augustus Mayhew.

Augustus Mayhew is the author of Palm Beach-A Greater Grandeur

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