Jo Davidson

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About this artist

Jo Davidson, born Joseph, was the most famous American portrait sculptor of the mid-twentieth century. After studying at the Art Students League with George de Forest Brush (1855-1941), he studied medicine at Yale University. From around 1901 to 1904 he worked as a studio assistant to sculptor Hermon Atkins MacNeil (1866-1947). In 1907 Davidson went to Paris to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and while there met Gertrude Stein and acquired the patronage of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney After his return to the United States in 1910 his first solo exhibition was held at the New York Cooperative Society. He thereafter exhibited his sculptures and drawings widely, in the Armory Show of 1913 and in other major exhibitions of modernist art.

Firsthand exposure to the fighting during World War I as an artist-correspondent turned Davidson’s attention to contemporary politics. For his busts of the Allied leaders made during the late 1910s and early 1920s he attained an international reputation as a "plastic historian." During the next several decades he made portrait sculptures of individuals who had made notable contributions to literature, art, and politics. Although Davidson’s portraits are realistic, they also reflect his training, grounded in the turn-ofthe-century beaux-arts style, especially in the invigorated, sketchy surfaces of his portraits. Not as well known are his ideal subjects, which he began to make early in his career and never totally abandoned. His evocative nudes, carved in marble or bronze, reflect the influence of symbolism and Auguste Rodin (1840-1917).

Washington, D.C., Library of Congress, Jo Davidson Papers § Raymond Wyer, "A New Message in Sculpture: The Art of Jo Davidson," Fine Arts Journal 26 (April 1912): 262-70 § Index 20th Cent. Artists 2 (August 1935): 157-59; 2 (September 1935): I; 3 (August-September 1936): III; reprint, pp. 447-49, 457, 459 § Jo Davidson, Between Sittings: An Informal Autobiography of Jo Davidson (New York: Dial, 1951) § Washington, D.C., Smithsonian Institution, National Portrait Gallery, Jo Davidson: Portrait Sculpture, exh. cat., 1978, with foreword by Mar-vin Sadik, entries by Marc Pachter and Amy E. Henderson, checklist of Davidson sculptures in the collection.