The portraits of Maria Louisa Kissam Vanderbilt and her daughter, Emily Thorn Vanderbilt Sloane, spent the summer in Hamburg, Germany, at the Bucerius Kunst Forum as part of the exhibition High Society: American Portraits of the Gilded Age.
Maria Louisa and Emily were the wife and daughter, respectively, of William Henry Vanderbilt, the eldest son of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. The portraits were painted by Benjamin Curtis Porter, a significant artist during this era of portraiture but one less prolific than others of his time. They joined portraits of two of Maria Louisa’s other children—George Washington Vanderbilt and Margaret Louisa Vanderbilt Shepard—loaned by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the San Antonio Museum of Art in Texas.
Getting the paintings to Hamburg in June was no simple task, says Joseph Mella, director of Vanderbilt’s Fine Arts Gallery. Mella served as the paintings’ official courier to ensure their safe arrival and installation, a crusade that put him on the road or in the air for almost 24 hours straight. “We do international shipping a fair amount,” Mella says, “but this is one of the more significant loans in our history.”