The Norton Museum of Art’s current exhibition of the sculpture of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1875-1942) is the first in more than 75 years of the artist.
Better known as a philanthropist and founder of the Whitney Museum of American Art, Whitney’s works are little known today, though she had a significant career as an artist, exhibiting throughout the United States and Europe.
The exhibit runs through April 29 and includes 45 sculptures and drawings, many of which are rarely seen works from private collections.
The exhibit showcases the variety of Whitney’s work – from her earliest classical sculptures to her more symbolic public monuments, from her bleakly Realist depictions of World War I to her late Art Deco work.
Heir to the massive fortune made by her family in shipping and railroads, Gertrude Vanderbilt was one of the wealthiest women of her age. Yet almost immediately after her marriage to Harry Payne Whitney in 1896, she realized that the life of a society hostess and mother would not satisfy her.
“She turned to sculpture for professional and emotional fulfillment and a way to define herself apart from her money,” says Dr. Ellen E. Roberts, Norton’s Harold and Anne Berkley Smith curator of American Art.
The installation moves chronologically through Whitney’s career and includes photographs of Whitney’s monuments in the United States, France, and Spain; her nurse’s uniform from World War I; and depictions of the artist and her sculpture by contemporaries such as painter Robert Henri, sculptor Jo Davidson and graphic artist L. Gauthier.
Adding perspective to the exhibit, the Norton will host two lectures in March:
American Artists Confront World War I
“American Artists Confront World War I” will be held Sunday, March 11 at 3 p.m. Robert Cozzolino, the Patrick and Aimee Butler curator of Paintings at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, will explore how the war affected artists both civilian and in uniform.
Whitney at War: Healing, Death, and Memory in the WWI Sculptures
“Whitney at War: Healing, Death, and Memory in the WWI Sculptures” will be held Thursday, March 22 at 6:30 p.m. David Lubin, art professor at Wake Forest University, will discuss the artist’s involvement in WWI as the founder of a field hospital in France and as a sculptor concerned with conveying the suffering of the wounded soldiers.
Both lectures are free and reservations are not required. The Norton is located at 1451 S. Olive Ave. in West Palm Beach. Through December, admission is free. For more information, including museum hours, go online to norton.org.
Pictured above, from left: “Spanish Peasant,” 1911, Plaster, Private collection, Photo: Joshua Nefsky; “Gwendolyn,” 1933–35, Marble, Mrs. Whitney Tower. Photo: Jacek Gancarz; “The Kiss,” 1933–35, Stone, Private collection, Photo: Jacek Gancarz