The origins of the Whitney Museum of American Art go back to the first decade of our century and to the beginnings of the realist and modern movements. It was at this time that Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney began her activities in the field of American art. Already embarked on her career as a sculptor, by 1907 Mrs. Whitney had taken a studio in Macdougal Alley in Greenwich Village, then the center of the new forces. Her breadth of mind and of sympathy allied her with the progressives from the first. She was an early friend of Arthur B. Davies and Robert Henri, leaders of the Eight; and when the group held its first exhibition, in 1908, she bought four of the seven pictures that were sold-- canvases by Henri, Luks, Lawson, and Shinn, all of which are now in the Whitney Museum collection. She supported the Madison Gallery, which showed liberal artists and where a few exhibitors, including Walt Kuhn and Jerome Myers, hatched the plan for a big independent exhibition that ultimately grew into the Armory Show, and she contributed the decorations of the Armory.
She had held informal exhibitions in her studio, and in 1914 she converted the adjoining house at 8 West Eighth Street into a gallery called the Whitney Studio, which gave regular shows of her fellow arttists, especially the young and less known. To assist her, she secured the services of Juliana Force, who was thenceforth associated with all her art activities. Temperamentally, Mrs. Whitney and Mrs. Force were entirely different, the former with an innate dignity and reserve that made it distasteful for her to engage in the hurly-burly of art controversies, the latter energetic and dynamic, a born doer and fighter. But they shared certain essential qualities-- largeness of vision, generosity, a liking for people, a sense of humor, a respect for the creative artist, and a sympathetic understanding of his problems. For the rest of their lives, they worked together in complete harmony for the advancement of American art. Both of them enjoyed the company of artists, and among their friends in the early days, besides Henri and Davies, were Sloan, Glackens, Du Bois, Speicher, Tucker, Sheeler, and the critic Forbes Watson, all of whom helped to shape their policies.
One of Mrs. Whitney's chief interests was the encouragement of new talent. In the spring of 1915, she formed the Friends of the Young Artists, "to give young artists in this country the opportunity to show their work." "The annual exhibitions of
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Publication information: Book title: American Art of Our Century. Contributors: Lloyd Goodrich - Author, John I. H. Baur - Author. Publisher: Praeger. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1961. Page number: 12.