Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney

To close

Title: Head study for the Titanic monument.

Author : VANDERBILT WHITNEY Gertrude (1875 - 1942)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 31.5 - Width 20.5

Technique and other indications: Black marble on deposit at the National Museum of Franco-American Cooperation in Blérancourt.

Storage place: National Museum of Modern Art - Center Pompidou website

Contact copyright: © Photo CNAC / MNAM Dist. RMN-Grand Palais - © All rights reserved

Picture reference: 23-004260 / JP59S

Head study for the Titanic monument.

© Photo CNAC / MNAM Dist. RMN-Grand Palais - All rights reserved

Publication date: April 2007

Historical context

Born in New York in 1875 in a wealthy environment - she was the daughter of the wealthy Cornelius Vanderbildt II, and a coveted heiress - Gertrude Vanderbildt married in 1896 the attractive Harry Payne Whitney, financier and polo player. There she met Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) whom she admired and whose influence she had been influenced by from his earliest works.
Besides her creative activity, Gertrude Vanderbildt Whitney was also - like Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1993) - a patron. She then decided to found her own museum: in 1931, the Whitney Museum of American Art opened its doors in the 8e New York street. Through her action in favor of young artists, she fostered the emergence of an original American aesthetic, free from European artistic influences.

Image Analysis

Monumental sculpture occupies an important place in the work of Gertrude Vanderbildt Whitney and her achievements are numerous. These include, among others: the Aztec fountain (1910, patio of the Pan American Building in Washington), the Arlington fountain (1910, Whitney Museum), the El Dorado fountain (Lima, Peru), the equestrian statue of Buffalo Bill (1924, Parc National Park of Yellowstone), the Christopher Columbus Memorial (Port of Palos, Spain), the statue of Peter Stuyvesant (1939, Stuyvesant Square, New York) ...
Gertrude Vanderbildt Whitney carried out this head study for a monument dedicated to the victims of the sinking of the Titanic which occurred on the night of April 14-15, 1912, off the coast of Newfoundland. The famous transatlantic, the largest and most luxurious ever built, then made its first crossing, from the English coast to New York. There were 1,500 victims of the 2,200 passengers. Many men died leaving their places for women and children in the lifeboats and the monument particularly commemorates their generous gesture. The memorial as a whole is simply made up of a high quadrangular plinth, surmounted by the colossal statue of a man standing with his arms outstretched, and whose face raised to the sky, facing east, symbolizes the Resurrection. It is commonly believed that the sculptor was inspired by the face of his brother, Alfred Vanderbildt, himself tragically disappeared in the sinking of the Lusitania, an English liner torpedoed by a German submarine on May 7, 1915, off the coast of Ireland. Erected on May 26, 1931, the Memorial Titanic now in Channel Park, Washington.


For decades, great collectors and American museums had eyes only for European art. Thus, in the twenties and thirties, the famous art lover Earl Horter amassed a veritable treasure consisting of works by Picasso, Braque, Duchamp and Brancusi. One could endlessly multiply the names of these astute aesthetes from across the Atlantic who have given European art a dimension that is both commercial and universal.
Gertrude Vanderbildt Whitney is, it seems, the first collector to take an interest in American art proper. While providing assistance to avant-garde European artists such as the sculptor Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957), she considers that American art should no longer be a provincial annex of its big European brother and that it should acquire its own autonomy. She creates a real community of artists that she helps financially, encourages and exhibits in her Whitney Studio Club. Artists like John Sloan, Robert Henri, Edward Hopper, Peggy Bacon, Marguerite Zorach, Stuart Davis - who are now considered old American masters - undoubtedly owe their notoriety to him. This first truly American art remains attached to a realism of good quality. While Europe has already seen waves of Impressionism, Fauvism and Cubism pass by, American painters paint pretty portraits or scenes from worldly life. The same conservatism marks the sculpture which nevertheless remains influenced by the manner of Rodin: The Promenade, by Maurice Prendergast, is just the slender version of the famous Kiss. American art went through an isolationist phase before there was, during the twenties and thirties, a veritable explosion in all fields of creation finally open to foreign countries. Those years saw the birth of American culture as we know it today.

  • United States
  • sculpture


BHFRIEDMANGertrude Vanderbildt Whitney: A BiographyNew York, 1978.Bernard GENIES "How a cultural dwarf became a giant - Art: from small masters to large merchants" in Le Nouvel Observateur, n ° 1804, June 3, 1999.Charlotte Streifer RUBINSTEINAmerican Women Sculptors , A History of Women Working in Three Dimensions, Boston, 1990.

To cite this article

Alain GALOIN, "Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney"

Video: The Whitney Women and The Museum They Made