Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, an heiress to the Vanderbilt family fortune, was born into tremendous wealth and privilege. She defied social expectations however, by becoming a sculptor and the foremost patron of American art in the early twentieth century — activities which would ultimately lead her to found the Whitney Museum. Mrs. Whitney commissioned this portrait from Robert Henri (1965 – 1929), a close friend and leader of the urban realist painters known as the Ashcan School. Henri emphasized her unconventionality by depicting her reclining in pants and gazing at the viewer with a self-possessed assurance. Indeed, her husband refused to hang the painting in their uptown home, and she instead kept it in her Greenwich Village studio, which would become the first home of the Whitney Museum in 1931.
Photographed in the Whitney Museum.