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