Bessie Potter Vonnoh American, 1872-1955

Overview

Bessie Potter Vonnoh was one of the most prolific and popular sculptors of genre in the first decades of the 20th Century in America. Her popularity and fame were based on her choice of subject matter---primarily mothers and children at play and in intimate little groupings---rendered in a tender, intimate, engaging, and somewhat nostalgic fashion which made them extremely appealing to the public which loved her wholesome and easily recognizable style. In contrast to the pretentious memorials and elaborate architectural creations of her peers and fellow sculptors working during the same period, Vonnoh like Mary Cassatt was able to sculpt works which exuded a sense of delicate domesticity balanced with the simple joys of motherhood.

 

Bessie Potter Vonnoh was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1872. About 1890 she traveled to Chicago and apprenticed with Lorado Taft at the Art Institute of Chicago. She later became his assistant and helped him with sculptures that he submitted at the Columbia Exposition of 1893 where she also exhibited some of her own works. At the fair Vonnoh was fascinated with the small figures by the Russian sculptor Paul Troubetzkoy which more than likely inspired her own later varied iterations of mothers and children. In 1894 Potter rented her first studio and said "I left behind me forever the swaddling clothes of art student life and became a professional."  And "I invited my girl friends to pose, making little statuettes of them just as they dropped in, dressed in all the incongruities of the day." Her approach was a radical rejection of the classical Greek ideals and instead she sought to capture the everyday beauty of her modern world in modest sizes that she called statuettes.  In 1896 she modeled A Young Mother, thought to be one of her first along the mother and children themes.  These works won recognition as her Young Mother received a bronze medal at the Paris Exposition of 1895 and again along with Midsummer won honorable mentions at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo in 1898. In 1899 Bessie Potter married the painter Robert Vonnoh. Their time together was marked by one of mutual respect and promotion of one another’s works.

Exhibitions

Columbian Exhibition, Chicago 1893

Nashville Exposition 1897 (prize)

Paris Exposition 1900 (medal)

Pan American Exposition, Buffalo 1901 (prize)

St. Louis Exposition 1904 (gold)

Panama-Pacific Exposition, San Francisco 1915 (medal)

National Academy of Design 1921 (gold)

Cincinnati Art Museum 2009

Memberships

National Sculpture Society 1898

Associate Member of the National Academy of Design 1906

Full Member National Academy of Design 1921

Allied Artists of America

National Arts Club

National Association of Portrait Painters

National Institute of Arts and Letters

Society of American Artists

Museums and Public Collections

Art Institute of Chicago

Brooklyn Museum 

Carnegie Institute

Central Park Memorial, New York City, NY

Cincinnati Art Museum

Corcoran Galleries of Art

Detroit Institute of Art

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Museum of Modern Art

Philadelphia Academy

Newark Museum

Roosevelt Bird Sanctuary Memorial, Oyster Bay, Long Island, NY

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