3. The Vanderbilt Galleries Were Funded by One of the Vanderbilts

The Vanderbilt Galleries. Photo courtesy of the Arts Students League

In 1893, a large exhibition in the American Fine Arts Galleries included an impressive array of European art from private collections, including work by Rembrandt, Diego Velásquez, J.M.W. Turner, John Constable, and Thomas Gainsborough. George Washington Vanderbilt II, son of William Henry Vanderbilt who would build the Biltmore estate in Asheville, North Carolina, gifted the American Fine Arts Society $100,000 to build new galleries. The connecting column-free gallery, built on West 58th Street, is known as the Vanderbilt Gallery and was modeled on the Galeries Georges Petit in Paris, particularly the inclusion of a 26-foot skylight ceiling.

The ceiling of the former Vanderbilt Galleries today

A fire destroyed the galleries in the 1920s, but they were rebuilt. Since the end of World War II, the space has been used as a bifurcated studio space, converted to accommodate the sudden surge in students at the League supported by the G.I. Bill. The exhibition gallery today is located on the second floor of the building, in a light-filled room that was originally used as a dining hall and lecture hall. Fun fact: an original oak and pink marble mantel sits in a storage area behind one of the exhibition walls.

The current exhibition gallery, with window to the 2 ½ library on upper right