Preservation Magazine, Fall 2016

Spotlight: Whitney Studio's Artistic Statement

Interior of the Whitney Studio

photo by: Gross & Daley

When sculptor and art patron Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney chose to leave her Fifth Avenue mansion to work in a former 19th-century stable in 1907, much of the nation’s high society guffawed; the Topeka Daily Capital even wrote, “Daughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt Will Live in Dingy New York Alley.”

Located between West 8th Street and MacDougal Alley in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village neighborhood, Whitney’s studio expanded over the next 35 years to become a complex of eight connected structures. She created her own well-regarded sculptures there, as well as hosting classes, competitions, and exhibitions of work by other artists. After the Metropolitan Museum of Art rejected her collection of more than 600 works, she opened the Whitney Museum of American Art on the site in 1931, where it remained until it outgrew the space nearly a quarter of a century later.

The Whitney Studio was saved from demolition in 1967 when the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture purchased the entire property.

In 2008, a portion of the studio’s cornice collapsed. The complex was named to the World Monuments Fund’s 2012 Watch List, and in 2014 the National Trust named the Whitney Studio a National Treasure, providing a $30,000 grant to the New York Studio School to help with basic repairs.

As of June, the public can tour the studio space for the first time ever, seeing highlights such as Robert Winthrop Chanler’s bronze-and-plaster fireplace bas-relief of flames embellished with animals, fantastical creatures, and celestial motifs extending overhead onto the ceiling.

“I think it’s a really wonderful story for the public to be able to understand,” says former National Trust Senior Field Director Alicia Leuba. “The new Whitney Museum just opened [last year] … It’s wonderful to be able to tell the story of where that all started and the vision of this incredible woman.”

Detail shot of the plaster bas relief flames

photo by: Gross & Daley

Katharine Keane headshot

Katharine Keane is a former editorial assistant at Preservation Magazine. She enjoys getting lost in new cities, reading the plaques at museums, and discovering the next great restaurant.

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