Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney: Artist, Patron, Collector

Born a Vanderbilt and marrying into the wealthy Whitney family, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney was an unusual upper crust matron. She was an artist. Her family and husband did not support her artistic ambitions, but Gertrude persisted, establishing studios in both New York and Paris and, by 1910, began showing her work under her own name. Her sculptures won several awards and were accepted at the Paris Salon of 1911. After the end of World War I, she focused on public memorials, many of which can still be seen across the United States.

Gertrude's wealth also allowed her to become a patron of the arts, and she was particularly keen to support fellow female artists. She used her influence to ensure that other women were included in group exhibitions and supported female-only shows. Among other things, in 1914, she established a club in New York where young artists could gather and chat, also providing housing stipends to help working artists make ends meet.

Gertrude also helped establish American art as, well, art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art declined her offer to donate her collection of almost 700 works of modern American art, because at the time, they did not accept works from the United States. So Gertrude decided to build her own museum. In 1931 she established the Whitney Museum, and she appointed a woman as its first director. The museum’s embracing of modernism was a huge institutional shift in the United States; it helped push American art from being seen as provincial and inferior to European art, to being unique and desirable in its own right.

Humanity Has Influenced The Evolution Of Bears?

Over twenty years ago, Sweden banned hunting female brown bears when they were still with their cubs. Reasonable right? Well, a recent study found that brown bears have evolved to care for their cubs an extra year! The increased time with the cubs decreases the mother's overall number of offspring, but it increases both the mother's and the cub's liklihood of survival.

High-Speed Wind Tunnel, and One of Its Technicians

Photograph taken in 1943, at the Langley Research Center in Virginia.

Four of the American founding fathers married widows: Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin. Interestingly, none had sons with their wives.

You Can Probably Guess What This Depicts

A textured manuscript illustration of, what else? Smallpox. From Japan, circa 1720.

Burning the Books of the Prophet

Zoroastrianism, arguably the world's first religion to worship just one god, still exists today -- mainly in India. But it barely survived an ancient blow. Specifically, the conquests of Alexander the Great.

When Alexander took Persia in the 320s BCE, large portions of the compiled works of Zarathustra were lost, in the destruction of cities and holy places. Some say it had once been over 12,000 pages. What remained was re-collected after Alexander's death, named the Avesta, and standardized into a five-part text which is still used by believers today.

The main section, named the Gathas, is the oldest: it contains 17 hymns believed to have been written by Zarathustra during his lifetime. Other sections contain prayers, rituals, accounts of how the world was created, and Zoroastrian law.

Preserved Heads Found At A Prehistoric Celtic Site in France

Scientists examined thousands of Iron Age skull fragments recovered from the fortified Celtic site of Le Cailar, which is located on a lagoon of the Rhône River, in France. The researchers estimate the fragments, which date to the 200s BCE, represented about 50 broken-up skulls. Weapons were found alongside the bones. Chemical analysis of 11 of the skulls detected conifer resin in six of them, suggesting the heads had been embalmed.

Why preserve just heads? Well, the researchers think the weapons and embalmed heads may have been put on display in a large, open space near the settlement gate, where they would have been seen by visiting Mediterranean traders. Ancient Greek and Roman sources claimed that Celts who lived in Gaul decapitated their enemies after battle, and hung the heads around their horses’ necks as trophies. Iron Age sculptures depicting the practice have been found in southern France.


"Having heard that he had in his library a certain very scarce and curious book, I wrote a note to him, expressing my desire of perusing that book, and requesting he would do me the favour of lending it to me for a few days. He sent it immediately, and I return’d it in about a week with another note, expressing strongly my sense of the favour. When we next met in the House, he spoke to me (which he had never done before), and with great civility; and he ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death."

Benjamin Franklin, on how he made friends with a rival legislator in the Pennsylvania statehouse.

This is a real psychological phenomenon. Humans tend to value more people whom they have helped -- and conversely, devalue more people whom they have wronged. It seems that we like to be consistent, and so justify our actions after-the-fact by telling ourselves we like that person we helped, or we do not like that person we wronged.

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    HISTORICAL NON-FICTION

    By Lillian Audette

    This blog is a collection of the interesting, the weird, and sometimes the need-to-know about history, culled from around the internet. It has pictures, it has quotes, it occasionally has my own opinions on things. If you want to know more about anything posted, follow the link at the "source" on the bottom of each post. And if you really like my work, buy me a coffee or become a patron!

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