Whitney Museum of American Art
New York Modern Arts Museum: History, Collection, Exhibitions.

Woman And Bicycle (1952)
Willem de Kooning. One of the
greatest 20th century paintings
of the New York School.

Whitney Museum of American Art


Preeminent Museum of 20th century American Art
Permanent Collection


Albright-Knox Art Gallery
Frick Collection
Guggenheim, New York
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

Smithsonian American Art Museum
National Gallery of Art Washington DC
Phillips Collection

Barnes Foundation
Carnegie Museum of Art
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Museum of Fine Arts Boston

Los Angeles County Museum of Art
J Paul Getty Museum Los Angeles

Preeminent Museum of 20th century American Art

Housed in an imposing black-grey marble building on Madison Avenue, the Whitney Museum has one of the most important holdings of 20th century American art, and is considered to be the preeminent home of twentieth-century American art and one of the best galleries of contemporary art in the United States.

Its permanent collection consists of more than 18,000 works of painting, sculpture and contemporary media. The Whitney's Annual and Biennial art exhibitions have long been established as definitive displays of the most recent developments in American art, and are the reason why the Whitney is regarded as one of the best art museums in the world for contemporary works. Due to its special focus on works by living artists, the museum has a policy of purchasing top-class works within the year they were created, often well before the artists have achieved widespread recognition. The Whitney was also the first New York museum to stage a major showing of a video artist (Nam June Paik, 1982).

Art Institute of Chicago
Detroit Institute of Arts
Indianapolis Museum of Art
Museum of Fine Arts Houston

Before visiting the Whitney, see
Art Evaluation: How to Appreciate Art
and How to Appreciate Paintings.

For the best fine arts, design,
and crafts courses in NYC and
and elsewhere in the state,
see: New York Art Schools.
For university courses in
fine arts across America, see:
Best Art Schools.

See: Art Museums in Europe.

For more about the different types,
styles and values of art, see:
Definition of Art.

For a list of great works
see: Greatest Modern Paintings.


The Whitney Museum of American Art was founded by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1875-1942), daughter of the fabulously wealthy railroad magnate Cornelius II Vanderbilt. After her marriage in 1896 to Harry Payne Whitney, a financier and brilliant polo player, she devoted much of her time to fine art, first as a sculptor, then - more importantly as a patron. Indeed, from roughly 1907 until World War II she was the leading buyer and collector of American art. In 1914, she formed the Whitney Studio in Greenwich Village, where she held exhibitions by living American painters and sculptors, many of whom had yet to be recognized. In 1929, she offered her assembly of more than 500 works to the city's Metropolitan Museum of Art, only to have her offer declined. In response to this, and also in part to the Museum of Modern Art's preference for European Modernism, she set up her own museum, dedicated to collecting, interpreting, and exhibiting modern art by American artists.

The Whitney Museum of American Art opened to the public in 1931 on West Eighth Street in Greenwich Village. It moved to its present building - designed by Marcel Breuer and Hamilton Smith - in 1966. In addition to this main location, The Whitney has also established a unique series of corporate-funded branches in other parts of New York City: including, the Equitable Center at Seventh Avenue and 52nd Street; and at the corporate headquarters of Philip Morris on Park Avenue and 42nd Street. At present, a new satellite museum building, designed by the renowned Italian architect Renzo Piano, is being constructed on Gansevoort St. Scheduled to open in 2012, the building will contain more than 50,000 square-feet of gallery space.

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney's daughter, Flora Payne Whitney, has followed in her mother's footsteps. From the latter's death in 1942 until 1974, she was President then Chairman of the museum, afterwards continuing as honorary chairman until her death in 1986. Her daughter, Flora Miller Biddle, succeeded her as museum president until 1985.



The museum's initial core collection in 1931 consisted of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney's personal collection of about 600 works. It featured paintings by Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1875), George Wesley Bellows (1882-1925), Stuart Davis (1894-1964), Edward Hopper (1882-1967), Maurice Prendergast (1859-1924), and John Sloan (1871-1951). She continued adding to the Collection for the remainder of her lifetime.

Not all painters appreciated the Whitney's efforts. Mark Rothko, for instance - an artist from whom the museum bought works quite early in his career - could be difficult. In 1947 he refused to be included in any more Whitney Annuals, as he did not wish to be shown next to 'mediocre works.' See also: Mark Rothko's Paintings (1938-70).

From 1948 onwards, in response to the growth of fine art in the United States - which had superceded Paris as the world centre of artistic activity - The Whitney started to accept donations and bequests from other sources. Major gifts have included: 2,000 oil paintings, watercolours, drawings, and prints by Edward Hopper, donated by his widow Josephine in 1970; the 1976 Lawrence H. Bloedel Bequest which included works by Georgia O'Keeffe, Milton Avery, Larry Rivers, Charles Demuth, and Charles Sheeler; the 1979 bequest of 850 paintings, oil studies, drawings, and sketches by Reginald Marsh, donated by his widow Felicia Meyer Marsh; and the 1980 donation of about 90 rare works by contemporary artists including Alexander Calder, Arshile Gorky, Louise Nevelson, Georgia O'Keeffe, Robert Rauschenberg, and Ad Reinhardt.

Note: During the 1970s several women's groups were formed, such as Women Artists in Revolution (WAR), that pressurized leading New York museums - including the Whitney Museum of American Art - to increase the proportion of feminist art and other exhibits by female artists.

Recent major donations have included the 2002 gift of 86 masterpieces of contemporary American art by eminent artists like Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, Roy Lichtenstein, and Andy Warhol. Along the way, the Museum has acquired additional works of interest including Three Flags (1958) by Jasper Johns, as well as his Untitled (1996); Circus (1926-31) by Alexander Calder; The Islands (1979), a suite of twelve paintings by Agnes Martin, considered to be her most important work; an exceptional collection of drawings by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, among numerous other acquisitions.

The Permanent Collection

By 1954, the original 600 works in the permanent collection had grown to about 1,300. By the time the museum moved into the new Breuer building in 1966, it had grown to 2,000. Today the Permanent Collection amounts to roughly 18,000 paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, and photographs, by more than 2,600 individual artists. As well as this, the museum's Frances Mulhall Achilles Library maintains a reference collection of 50,000 books and exhibition catalogues, along with some 500 current periodicals and essential reference materials on American 20th and 21st-century contemporary art.


Masterpieces from the Whitney Museum of American Art include:

- Standing Woman (1912) by Gaston Lachaise
- Painting, Number 5 (1914) by Marsden Hartley
- Dempsey and Firpo (1924) by George Wesley Bellows
- Calder's Circus (1926–31) by Alexander Calder
- Egg Beater No. 1 (1927) by Stuart Davis
- Cocktail (1927) by Gerald Murphy
- My Egypt (1927) by Charles Demuth
- Sixth Avenue Elevated at Third Street (1928) by John Sloan, Ashcan School
- Early Sunday Morning (1930) by Edward Hopper
- River Rouge Plant (1932) by Charles Sheeler
- Summer Days (1936) by Georgia O'Keeffe
- Twenty Cent Movie (1936) by Reginald Marsh
- The Betrothal, II (1947) by Arshile Gorky
- Poker Night (1948) by Thomas Hart Benton
- The Promise (1949) by Barnett Newman
- Number 27 (1950) by Jackson Pollock
- La Combe I (1950) by Ellsworth Kelly
- Woman and Bicycle (1952) by Willem de Kooning
- Yoicks (1953) by Robert Rauschenberg
- Blue, Yellow, Green on Red, (1954) by Mark Rothko
- Mahoning (1956) by Franz Kline
- Three Flags (1958) by Jasper Johns
- Big Red (1959) by Alexander Calder
- Dawn's Wedding Chapel II (1959) by Louise Nevelson
- Door to the River (1960) by Willem de Kooning
- Abstract Painting (1960–66) by Ad Reinhardt
- Little Big Painting (1965) by Roy Lichtenstein
- Black Bean (1968) [from Campbell's Soup I] by Andy Warhol

These works make the Whitney one of the top art museums in America.

Other Artists

Other American artists represented include: Josef Albers (1888-1976), Louise Bourgeois (1911-2011), Charles Burchfield (1893-1967), Dan Christensen, Ronald Davis, Richard Diebenkorn (1922-93), Arthur Dove (1880-1946), William Eggleston (b.1939), Helen Frankenthaler (b.1928), Keith Haring (1958-1990), Grace Hartigan (1922-2008), Eva Hesse (1936-70), Hans Hofmann (1880-1966), Willem de Kooning (1904-97), Lee Krasner (1908-84), John Marin (1870-1953), Knox Martin, Robert Motherwell (1915-91), Kenneth Noland (b.1924), Maurice Prendergast (1859-1924), Man Ray (1890-1976), Morgan Russell (1886-1953), Albert Pinkham Ryder (1847-1917), Cindy Sherman (b.1954), and thousands of others. See also: American Sculptors.


The Whitney runs a diverse program of exhibitions in order to showcase the best of American art from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. These exhibitions encompass historical surveys, retrospectives of significant modern and contemporary American artists, and group shows of unknown or emerging artists, exhibitions of architecture, film and video art, multi-media installation and fine art photography, and other new media. Since 1932, the museum's major show has been the Whitney Biennial, an invitational event devoted to work produced in the preceding two years, which introduces many less well-known artists - including street artists like David Wojnarowicz (1954-92) - to the American art scene. For more about biennials, including the Whitney, please see: Best Contemporary Art Festivals.


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