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Howard Cushing portrait of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s daughter, Flora, estimated at $300,000-$600,000 at Richard Stedman.

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s Long Island studio sends 100 more lots to Richard Stedman Jan. 20

TAMPA, Fla. – Almost a year to the day after its previous offering from the studio of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Richard Stedman Estate Services will present 100 more lots related to the famed sculptor, founder of the Whitney Museum of American Art, and great-granddaughter of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt on Saturday, January 20. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.

The materials include furnishings, photographs, artworks, documents and other memorabilia from her studio in Old Westbury on Long Island in New York. Together, they provide a glimpse into the life of Whitney (1875-1942), who launched her career without the support of her husband or family and had to navigate the unique obstacles posed by her wealth, her womanhood, and her surname.

Critics generally agree that Whitney’s greatest work is her memorial to the men on the Titanic who refused seats in lifeboats to allow women and children to survive the disaster. Her finished sculpture, which was unveiled in Washington, D.C. in 1931, won an open competition for submissions. A second, related sculpture, a maquette for a memorial to those lost on the Lusitania in 1915, carried even greater emotional meaning for the artist. Her favorite sibling, Alfred Vanderbilt, was aboard the Lusitania when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat, and reportedly offered his life vest to a woman holding an infant. The maquette alludes to this selfless act, which doomed Alfred, by placing the figure of a standing woman with a baby front and center. Unlike the Titanic commission, the Lusitania memorial was never realized. Its maquette appears in the sale lineup with an estimate of $10,000-$20,000.

Impressive for entirely different reasons is a suite of 13 furnishings, plus accessories, that comprised Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s bedroom in Paris in the early 20th century. At some point, her heirs removed the pieces from storage and set them up in the Long Island studio. Now the tantalizing time capsule has an estimate of $200,000-$400,000.

The highest-estimated lot in the sale is an artwork, but it is not by Whitney, nor does it feature her. It is a portrait of Whitney’s daughter, Flora, painted by family friend Howard Cushing. The portrait, which shows the pensive young woman lounging on a yellow couch, once held pride of place in the Long Island studio. In the January 20 sale, it has an estimate of $300,000-$600,000.

A second fascinating piece that centers Flora Whitney (1897-1986) is a lot of three of her diaries that span the years 1909 to 1918. In them, she discusses the sinkings of the Titanic and the Lusitania, and aspects of her relationship with her fiancé, Quentin Roosevelt, son of Theodore Roosevelt. Neither family approved of the match, which came to a tragic end when Quentin, who had volunteered to fight in World War I as a flight commander with the 95th Aero Squadron, was shot down over France in July 1918. While Flora’s recorded thoughts cover many episodes of interest, including an ultimately failed engagement to a previous suitor, they end in 1918 and do not seem to cover her reaction to Quentin’s death. The diaries have a collective estimate of $10,000-$50,000.