Lynn Byrne

Lynn Byrne

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The Artistic Legacy of Gloria Vanderbilt


What comes to mind when you hear the name “Gloria Vanderbilt?”

The answer could depend on your age.  The seniors among us, might picture her as a beautiful young socialite.

Middle agers, particularly female ones, might recall those coveted blue jeans from the 1970’s that were denied in high school because designer clothes were deemed too extravagant.

And Generation Y?  Oh yeah, isn’t she the mother of famed CNN anchor, Anderson Cooper?

A clue to the essence of Gloria Vanderbilt comes from the famous portrait of her taken in 1970 by the noted photographer Horst and published in his eponymous monograph by Barbara Plumb.  

In the text accompanying the Horst’s photograph, Plumb describes Gloria Vanderbilt’s “passion for creating collages,” which led her to “painstakingly” creating her patchwork bedroom. Vanderbilt herself meticulously fit fabric scraps with no overlap to the floor and varnished them. When the sun streamed through her unlined silk draperies it gave the floor the illusion of stained glass.

With a bedroom like that, 'artist' should be what comes to mind when you hear Gloria Vanderbilt’s name.  Indeed it is her art that has been the one constant in her life.

Vanderbilt fell in love with painting as a schoolgirl and had her first solo exhibition in 1952.  Her works on paper have been shown at the Hammer Galleries in New York and the Southern Vermont Arts Center in Manchester, VT.  In 1996, she did a series of  “Dream Boxes” with haunting doll-like installations.

At 90 years old Gloria Vanderbilt is still creating. 

Her most recent endeavor is an exhibition and sale of drawings, paintings and collages with 1st dibs, entitled the “Left Hand is the Dreamer”, which opened on February 27 in the  1st dibs gallery in the New York Design Center.

The show consists of over 50 works that the 90 year old created during the past year.  In an interview in W magazine Vanderbilt attributes her energetic productivity to good health and discipline. 

 According to Vanderbilt, the title of the show stems from her interest in mythology and palmistry. She explains that the left hand is always the dreamer because the ring finger on the left hand leads directly to the heart. Finding this idea poetic, she only wears nail polish on her left ring finger.

The show’s title is quite suitable as the works have a very mythic and dreamlike quality, almost childlike.  Most are done in colorful pastels—the first time Vanderbilt has ever used that medium. Many of the human figures are women.  Animals, trees, flowers, and the moon also feature prominently.  The colors are bright and bring to mind the work of Chagall and Matisse.

Accompanying the show is a “salon” for Vanderbilt created by her in conjunction with designer Matthew Patrick Smyth, where we get a further peek into her creative world.  It is there where she scrawled the show’s title in pink, graffiti-like across the wall. 

Her love of trees are represented by several Curtis Jere sculptures throughout the space. Color comes through loud and clear with a bold orange lacquered desk by Milo Baughman. Art supplies are given a prominent location.  A couple of her “ Dream Boxes” are installed. There is even a nod to her extraordinary past with a copy of her biography on the desk as well as a book she authored. 

It is easy to marvel at Gloria Vanderbilt’s rich and varied life.  She has said many times that the key to it all is that she is always in love. 

Now that’s  dreamy.

“The Left Hand is the Dreamer “ is on view to the public at the 1st dibs gallery, 200 Lexington Avenue until March 28.  You can also view and purchase the works on the 1st dibs website