A curious sort of exhibit on art patron and sculptor Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1877-1942) has been installed in an alcove at the National Portrait Gallery.
But then she was a curious sort of person, possessor of more-than-ordinary talent and extraordinary amounts of money and clout by both blood and marriage. She gave us the Titanic Memorial, which we could probably do without, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, without which few of us would be willing to do.
She lived a fabulous life, in which money was neither an object nor necessarily the subject, yet there is the overwhelming suggestion of deep uncertainty in the person who appears in the photographs, letters and notebooks on display.
Whitney's miniature bronze sculpture of her daughter is, well,nice; but the longer and more closely it is studied, the less one sees in it. It's guarded, uncommitted, almost perfunctory. Yet she plainly worked a hell of a long time on it.
The effect of some of the studio photographs on display is comic, yet clearly she meant her costumes and poses to be taken seriously. That she didn't destroy them is testimony that her artistic tastes and sensibilities were at best erratic. One suspects that all her life, people told her what they thought she wanted to hear, and she knew they were doing it, and hated it, yet had an insufficiently powerful inner voice to drown them out.