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Opening Day of Gloria Vanderbilt: An Artful Life

October 30 | 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Gloria Vanderbilt, Gerta, 1964, oil on canvas, 41 in. x 41 in. Private Collection

A mesmerizing photograph of Gloria Vanderbilt by Francesco Scavullo graced the cover of the November 2010 issue of Town & Country magazine with the caption, “There will never be another Gloria Vanderbilt.” This statement speaks volumes about a woman who was in the public eye throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Many of us are aware of Gloria’s unsettling early childhood, during which she was caught in the middle of a custody battle between her young, absent mother, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, and her powerful aunt, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. We know her from writings concerning her marriages, romances, and the tragic loss of her son, Carter, to suicide. And, of course, we know her from her fashion breakthrough in creating her signature designer jeans in 1978.

But who was Gloria Vanderbilt, the designer, and artist? Behind the effervescent ear to ear smile and poised images that were published in many social columns, she was a complex, vulnerable, passionate, emotional, and extremely creative force. Gloria would spend hours each day in her studio, choreographing her precious time between her easel and her writing desk. Her studio, which was on the ground level in her apartment building on Beekman Place in New York City, was her sanctuary where she would paint, assemble her sculptures, and pen her memoirs, novels, and short stories. Stopping briefly for lunch to enjoy a peanut butter sandwich, she would return to her creations till 3:30 p.m. She felt the most comfortable in her studio, relaxed and free to be herself.

Cocooned in this space, at her easel and surrounded by tables laden with tubes of paint lined up in a row by shades of colors, boxes of sharpened pastels, containers filled with brushes, and stacks of unfinished canvases lined up along the wall, her imagination would take hold. Gloria concentrated very seriously and intensively on her art for over 75 years. When asked about the inspiration for her work, Gloria stated, “Often images are channeled in dreams, which find expression in my paintings. They have a narrative quality, which are shuffled around in the kaleidoscope of my imagination and find themselves in colors and patterns that sustain me. My memory is also a driving influence in my work. Memories I absorb and reinvent to changing effect because I have changed but do not want to let them go.” She further remarked, “Color too intoxicates and inspires me, as does the beauty of a person who has something I can’t quite catch. They become muses which I become obsessed to define, to reveal something of their inner mystery,” she added.

In 2012, Gloria and Wendy Goodman, author of The World of Gloria Vanderbilt, accepted an invitation from a longtime friend, Christopher Madkour, Executive Director of the Huntsville Museum of Art, to be the guest speakers at the Museums annual GALA Luncheon and Voices of Our Times event. During their visit to Huntsville, Gloria and Wendy were presented with a Key to the City by Mayor Tommy Battle, who extended an open invitation to return any time. Gloria’s stay in Huntsville was so memorable that she went on to host a fundraiser in New York for the Museum. The preview party for the World of Gloria Vanderbilt, an exhibition of her paintings and sculptures at 1stdibs, opened on September 12, 2012, to rave reviews. At that time, Michael Bruno, Founder of 1stdibs, stated: “Regional museum like the Huntsville Museum of Art are making such a big impact on the art scene today. Gloria is a category unto herself. Her signature use of color astounds me in every work.” Gloria’s dear friend Nydia Caro reflected on her work, “Gloria’s paintings were like Gloria’s world. Holographic, layers, and layers of dreams about her extraordinary life.”Patsy Haws, Board member and guest at the party at 1stdibs, reflects, “Many of us were privileged with her generosity that weekend as so many doors were opened to us.

It was a“Cinderella” time, but the real Cinderella was Gloria. She found her prince in her own spirit and art, in her family and friends and never hesitated to share. Perhaps giving of herself was her greatest achievement.” Longtime friend, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, remarked, “Gloria’s work has gone in many different directions, has sustained, and continues to surprise. Her palette has always been bright with varieties of pick, red, lavender, yellow. In her work there is nothing of sentimentality, even when the subjects are tender: a contented couple with two children in the background or a mother with a child or a woman in a hat. They, and hundreds more, have a power to them, with a sense not of melancholy but of what the passage of time means, of how the present will one day be a memory. The perfect example is her painting of a mother and child in her bold painting, Memories.” Gloria’s creative legacy will stand the test of time, and her support and contribution of the Huntsville Museum of Art will forever be remembered.

The Huntsville Museum of Art is honored to present this exclusive boutique exhibition which not only features memorable photographs of Vanderbilt by Horst, Jonathan Becker, Adrián Villeta, Annie Leibovitz, and Jack Mitchell, but also a selection of Vanderbilt’s own artworks, as well as memorabilia documenting Vanderbilt’s recent association with the Huntsville Museum of Art. Organized by HMA.

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