Robert Henri (1865-1929)
Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney
Oil on canvas
Overall: 49 15/16 × 72 in. (126.8 × 182.9 cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Gift of Flora Whitney Miller
Rights and Reproductions Information
© artist or artist’s estate
Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, founder of the Whitney Museum, commissioned this portrait in 1916 from Robert Henri, leader of the urban realist painters who had shocked the New York art world barely a decade earlier with their images of ordinary people and commonplace city life. By 1916, Mrs. Whitney, a professional sculptor, had founded the Whitney Studio in Greenwich Village, a lively center for the support and exhibition of new American art. When Henri’s portrait was finished, Mrs. Whitney’s husband, Harry Payne Whitney, refused to allow her to hang it in their opulent Fifth Avenue town house. He didn’t want his friends to see a picture of his wife, as he put it, "in pants." Mrs. Whitney’s attire and self-possessed demeanor were highly unusual for a well-bred woman of her day. In this painting, Henri transformed the traditional genre of a recumbent female—usually a nude courtesan or the goddess Venus—into a portrait of the quintessential "modern" woman. The portrait hung in Whitney’s West 8th Street studio, which in 1931 became the first home of the Whitney Museum.