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Whistler and Vanderbilt: An Artist and His Patron
Collecting fine art was a passion for George Washington Vanderbilt. From Whistler, Sargent and Renoir portraits to sixteenth century Flemish tapestries and Barye statuary, he filled his Asheville, NC home, Biltmore House, with cherished treasures gathered from Europe, the Far East and North Africa. Strolling through his home, it is easy to imagine George Washington Vanderbilt pausing -- both in awe and admiration -- before the beautiful objects that recalled memories of his travels around the world.
With the winter's quiet blanketing America's largest private home, guests will be invited to follow in Vanderbilt's footsteps during Winter Pastimes: The Arts in America's Largest Home, held January 9 through March 21,1999. In addition to showcasing Vanderbilt's 70,000 works of art and antiques, Winter Pastimes includes a special exhibition starting February 5 and extending through May 16, 1999, entitled Whistler and Vanderbilt: An Artist and His Patron.
Exploring the unique friendship between the aging painter and the art connoisseur, Whistler and Vanderbilt: An Artist and His Patron will unveil Vanderbilt's collection of James McNeill Whistler paintings. Two of these, George Washington Vanderbilt and Gold and Brown: A Self-Portrait, are loaned from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. This exhibition marks the first time these portraits have been in the home in forty years. Running through May 16, the display will be located in the Watson and Van Dyck Rooms, part of a Third Floor suite which will open -- fully restored -- for the first time this summer.
Other exhibition highlights include a portrait of George Vanderbilt's wife, Edith, titled Ivory and Gold; Portrait of a Baby, presumed to be a painting of the couple's daughter, Cornelia; a Nocturne: Battersea; and The Little London Sparrow. A select number of etchings, books and letters will complete this intimate look at the artist-patron relationship.
"Whistler was arguably one of the most talented artists of turn-of-the-century Europe," said Lori Garst, Biltmore Estate registrar. "The correspondence between these two men is a powerful testimony to Vanderbilt's deep regard for Whistler's art, which, by the time of their encounter, was already well-established.
"In fact Vanderbilt, who was fascinated by Europe's effervescent art scene, may have felt a kinship to this fellow American, who spent most of his career between Paris and London."
As an example of this bond, Garst cites this 1897 letter from Vanderbilt. "Is there a chance of your returning to London soon and if you do will you consider me a fit subject for a portrait? . . . I cannot begin to tell you how much I want an example of your great work."
Renowned for being a demanding taskmaster when it came to those who posed for him, Whistler responded, "I think I may frankly say that I would not ask for a more sympathetic subject than yourself and am greatly pleased at the prospect of painting your portrait!"
The full-length portrait -- duly commissioned -- was never completed to the artist's satisfaction, a sign of the perfectionism for which the maverick artist was renowned. Vanderbilt received the painting in 1904, a year after the artist's death. Vanderbilt's widow inherited the painting and her estate bequeathed it and Gold and Brown: A Self-Portrait to the National Gallery of Art in 1959.
In addition to the Whistler exhibition, art lovers may take advantage of daily guided art talks covering a variety of topics specific to the collection. Offered on a first-come, first-served basis, guided talks are held at 11:00 A.M., 12:00 NOON, 1:30 P.M., and 2:30 P.M. Guests may register at the front desk of Biltmore House.
From top to bottom: Usually displayed in Biltmore House's Tapestry Gallery, this oval portrait of Edith Vanderbilt, entitled Ivory and Gold, was commissioned from James McNeill Whistler in 1898 and completed in 1902. The painting stands as an important piece in Biltmore Estate's permanent collection. Photo: Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC; Whistler, James McNeill (American, 1834 - 1903), George W. Vanderbilt, 1897/1902, oil on canvas, 82 1/8 x 35 7/8 inches, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Edith Stuyvesant Gerry.
For more information, contact The Biltmore Company, One North Pack Square, Asheville, N.C. 28801
For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.
Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.
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