Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1875-1942) merits a biography for several reasons. First, she belonged by birth and marriage to...



Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1875-1942) merits a biography for several reasons. First, she belonged by birth and marriage to two of America's wealthiest and most prominent families in an era that saw extravagant luxury reach its apex and decline. There is social history in this life, as exemplified by the notoriety of the famous Gloria V. custody case--and B. H. Friedman has not neglected it, if only by widening his narrative into a history of the Vanderbilts and Whitneys. GVW also warrants interest because she was a serious-minded author, sculptor, and patron of the visual arts in America. At a time when American art was so little regarded that the Metropolitan Museum declined the gift of her collection (and in the same year, 1929, that the Museum of Modern Art was founded as a shrine for European modernism), GVW resolutely supported ""our national creative talent,"" and established the Whitney Museum of American Art. Yet Friedman's chief justification for this large biography seems to be GVW's remarkable journals, in which she carefully recorded her thoughts and feelings from adolescence into adulthood. These journals provide Friedman's clue to her character as well as the substance of his narrative. Torn by ambivalence between public and private life, inhibition and expression, wealth and simple happiness, GVW channeled her sufferings, compounded by a loveless marriage and the subordination of women, into a vigorous quest for recognition in her own right as an artist, lover, and strong woman. These journals, although quoted excessively, are splendid documents, exhibiting a gifted, self-conscious, injured, but resilient personality hopeful of redeeming herself and her culture. Regrettably, the historical interest of GVW's life is dulled by Friedman's failure to leave anything out of his prosaic year-by-year account--including movies seen, clippings saved, revisions made in incidental personal letters. Were the book more intellectually disciplined, it would be half as long, more compelling, and more significant.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 1978


Page Count: -

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1978