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.

A traditional Han Chinese bridal sedan chair, which would carry a bride to her wedding. The journey in the chair is meant to represent the bride’s transition from one family to another. Photographed by Englishman Thomas Child in the 1870s or 1880s.

When it was built in 1897, the US Library of Congress was the largest and the most expensive library building in the world.

New Discoveries About the Origin of the World

L'Origine du Monde, an 1866 painting by French artist Gustave Courbet, has been controversial since it debuted. To be blunt, it depicts a nude woman's private parts and torso. Even today the painting is considered risque. Facebook recently shut down a French teacher's account when they posted a picture of the painting. Which is why this post does not contain it -- you'll have to go to the linked article to see.

The reason L'Origine du Monde is in the news now? The woman it depicts may have been identified. Or re-discovered, to be more accurate. Constance Queniaux had retired as a ballet dancer at the Paris Opera in 1859. She was known at the time to be the mistress of Turkish-Egyptian diplomat Halil Sherif Pasha. The man who commissioned Courbet's painting. But all this has been known for a long time, it is not news.

But further evidence recently turned up in letters between the writer George Sand and the son of writer Alexandre Dumas. Of all things. You'll have to go to the article to get the specific wording, but basically, Dumas was gently criticizing the painting and in the process, he delicately alluded to Ms. Queniaux's privates. Dumas therefore had seen the painting, and believed for whatever reason that it was of Constance Queniaux.

That's not the only new evidence. When Ms. Queniaux died in 1908, she bequeathed a painting by Courbet of a bouquet of spring flowers and red and white camellias. Camellias were the flowers most closely identified with courtesans. And they would have made sense, if a painting for Ms. Queniaux was commissioned from Courbet by his Ottoman patron, to have painted those specific flowers. It all goes together neatly.

"It is true that you may fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all the time."

This quote is often attributed to Abraham Lincoln, but it is unclear if he ever said it.

Loneliness Is A Modern Invention

Literally -- the word first appeared in the 1800s. Before that time, English had the words ‘oneliness,’ the state of being alone, and ‘solitude,’ also meaning the state of being alone.

And while loneliness is understood to be a painful condition today, oneliness and solitude were debated. Some European philosophers thought solitude was damaging to a person’s physical and mental health. Others held that it was crucial to stay sane. And crucial for spiritual health: solitary confinement was originally not a punishment, but an path to reformation through enforced contemplation of one’s sins.

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    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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