The Whitney Museum houses one of the world's foremost collections of twentieth-century American art. The Permanent Collection of some 12,000 works encompasses paintings, sculptures, multimedia installations, drawings, prints, and photographs—and is still growing. The Museum was founded in 1931 with a core group of 700 art objects, many of them from the personal collection of founder Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney; others were purchased by Mrs. Whitney at the time of the opening to provide a more thorough overview of American art in the early decades of the century.
Although the Whitney's acquisition budget was always rather modest, the Museum made the most of its resources by purchasing the work of living artists, particularly those who were young and not well known. It's been a long-standing tradition of the Whitney to purchase works from the Museum's Annual & Biennial exhibitions, which began in 1932 as a showcase for recent American art.
As young artists, Edward Hopper and Reginald Marsh began showing their work in the 1920s at the Whitney Studio Club, the Museum's precursor, and both continued to exhibit at the Museum. In appreciation of the Whitney's enduring support of their art, Josephine Nivison Hopper and Felicia Marsh, the artists' widows, made substantial bequests of their husbands' works to the Museum.
Despite its early emphasis on realist art, the Whitney Museum has long been dedicated to assembling a collection that offers a comprehensive picture of twentieth-century American art. Although the collection is characterized by its breadth, it is equally recognized for its in-depth commitment to the work of a number of artists. Other in-depth concentrations include major holdings by Marsden Hartley, Georgia O'Keeffe, Charles Burchfield, Gaston Lachaise, Louise Nevelson, and Agnes Martin.