RAIMUNDO DE MADRAZO Y GARRETA (1841–1920)
Portrait of Gertrude Vanderbilt, 1880
Oil on canvas, 58 3/8 x 39 1/4 in.
Signed and dated (at upper right): R. Madrazo / 1880
RECORDED: Wayne Craven, Gilded Mansions: Grand Architecture and High Society (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2009), p. 141 // Mark A. Roglán, “José, Federico & Raimundo de Madrazo: A Dynasty of Art and Leadership in Nineteenth-Century Spain,” in Fortuny y Madrazo: An Artistic Legacy, exhib. cat. (New York: Queen Sofia Spanish Institute, 2012), p. 91 // Amaya Alzaga Ruiz, “Raimundo de Madrazo and Joaquín Sorolla, Spanish Painters in America,” in José Luis Colomer, Blanca Pons-Sorolla, and Mark A. Roglán, eds., Sorolla in America: Friends and Patrons (Dallas: Meadows Museum, Southern Methodist University; New York: Center for Spain in America; Madrid: Fundacion Museo Sorolla, 2015), pp. 326, 328 // Mark A. Roglán, “Passion for Spain. Collecting Spanish Art in America,” in Mark S. Roglán, ed., Spanish Art in America (Madrid: Ediciones El Viso, 2016), p. 34
EXHIBITED: Newport Art Museum, Newport, Rhode Island, 1992, Newportraits, pp. 17, 162,  illus. in color
EX COLL: Cornelius Vanderbilt II, New York and Newport, Rhode Island, 1880, and by descent in the family until 2018
Among the first wave of wealthy Americans to patronize Madrazo during their visits to Paris was the railroad heir and arts connoisseur Cornelius Vanderbilt II, who, in 1880, commissioned the artist to paint a full-length portrait of his wife, Alice Claypoole Gwynne Vanderbilt (The Preservation Society of Newport County, Newport, Rhode Island) and the present portrait of his five-year-old daughter, Gertrude (1875–1942).
When he depicted her in his Paris studio, Madrazo had little inkling of what the future would hold for Miss Vanderbilt. Born and raised in Manhattan, Gertrude grew up in her parents’ palatial mansion on the northwest corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street. After studying with private tutors, she attended the prestigious Brearley School, where she graduated in 1894. Two years later, on August 26, 1896, she married Harry Payne Whitney, a financier, sportsman, and horse breeder, with whom she would have three children. However, Gertrude wanted more than marriage and motherhood. A passionate and ambitious woman who developed an interest in art as a child, she took up sculpture in 1900, moving easily between the genteel atmosphere into which she had been born and the colorful bohemian life of Greenwich Village, where she later established a studio. Through hard work and perseverance, Gertrude went on to make a name for herself in the annals of 20th-century American art through her activity as a public sculptor, creating such well-known monuments as the Titanic Memorial (circa 1916), the Christopher Columbus Monument (1929), and To the Morrow (Spirit of Flight) (1939; New York World’s Fair). A visionary collector and generous philanthropist, Gertrude also founded the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (opened 1931), which remains the preeminent museum devoted to American art of the twentieth century and beyond.
In Madrazo’s likeness, considered one of his finest child portraits, Gertrude comes across as a poised and serious little girl, her direct gaze suggesting that she was perfectly at ease in having her likeness painted. Posed against an unadorned backdrop of lush fabric, she wears a white dress and sits on a Louis XVI stool, her feet resting on a satin pillow. Madrazo would typically begin his portraits by sketching in the features of his subject’s face, which he would paint first, emphasizing line, form, and detail through careful observation. He adheres to that approach in Gertrude’s likeness, his masterful handling effectively capturing her wide-set eyes, cupid-bow’s mouth, and short bangs. As was his practice, Madrazo denotes her costume with fluent brushwork that adds a note of spontaneity to the image while still giving us a sense of stiff bows and frilly, lace-trimmed cuffs. Both his varied handling and limited palette of cool blues and silvery greys––augmented by touches of white, pink, orange, and an array of flesh tones––demonstrate his skills in rendering the sheen of silk and satin, as well as the glow of light as it falls across the sitter’s hair and sash and on portions of the furniture and cushion.