A portrait of the thirteen-year-old Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, future founder of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Born in 1875, Gertrude was the daughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and Alice Claypoole Gwynne. Her father inherited the vast fortune in steamships, railroads and finance built by his grandfather Cornelius Vanderbilt I.
In 1896 Gertrude married Harry Payne Whitney; they had three children. In her twenties she began a serious career as an artist, training as a sculptor, and established studios in New York and Paris. During the First World War she equipped a field hospital for American soldiers, and a number of her sculptures, including some war memorials, were inspired by her experiences. From 1914 she ran the Whitney Studio, a forum for artists, and in 1931 she founded the Whitney Museum with her own large collection of works by her contemporaries. She died in 1942.
The first sitting for the portrait took place on 8 May 1888. Millais mentioned that Gertrude was about to come to the studio in a letter to his wife of that date. The portrait was still in progress on 5 June, when he told his daughter Effie that 'Miss Vanderbilt sat to me from eleven to twelve.' The artist's bank account at Coutts shows that Gertrude's father paid for the work on 20 July. But it remained in the studio until the following year. 'We expect to be in London about the 8th of April,' Vanderbilt wrote to Millais on 1 February 1889, 'and I should like very much to have you retain the portrait until then so that Mrs Vanderbilt and I can see it and make any further suggestions that may occur to us.' On 3 May 1889 Millais wrote to his wife to say that they were satisfied with the portrait except that Mrs Vanderbilt found the hair too dark, and on 11 May that he had 'altered hair of Vanderbilt girl to Mother's satisfaction, and that business at last completed.'
We are grateful to Dr Malcolm Warner for providing this catalogue entry.