It’s been just over a year since the Whitney moved to it’s MePa home, leaving behind the Marcel Breuer–designed building on Madison Avenue that it had occupied from 1966 to 2015. That’s as far back as most people go with the Whitney’s history. In fact, the museum began in 1914, when Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney founded the Whitney Studio in Greenwich Village. Starting June 3, you’ll be able to tour the space, and become acquainted with the institution's original home.
A Gilded Age heiress, Vanderbilt Whitney devoted herself to the then-quixotic mission of promoting American artists, when, around 1907, she started to collect their work; The Studio, a former hayloft on Eight Street, provided an opportunity to mount exhibitions. The place remained the museum’s headquarters until a move to West 54th street in 1954. The interior was designed by Robert Winthrop Chanler, a painter and decorator with a penchant for fantastical scenes of nature. That much is made evident by a plaster-and-bronze fireplace surround depicting twisting, undulating flames that soar to a height of 30 feet. There are equally febrile bas reliefs carved into the ceiling featuring dragons and sea monsters, as well as hallucinogenic stained-glass windows picturing the same.
Now part of the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture, the space will be opened to a limited number of visitors for free 45-minute tours partially funded by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The tours fill up fast, so for a chance to visit a landmark of New York art history, you can find out find out more about them here.