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 Bessie Onahotema Potter (Keyes) Vonnoh  (1872 - 1955)

/ VAHN-oh/


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Lived/Active: New York/Connecticut/Missouri      Known for: female figure sculpture-statuettes, painting

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Ad Code: 2
Bessie Onahotema Potter Vonnoh
from Auction House Records.
Water Nymph: A Fountain
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A sculptor known for her depictions of graceful, serene, female figures with gently sweeping garments, Bessie Vonnoh became one of the female assistant's to Lorado Taft with a group nicknamed the "White Rabbits*."  They assisted him with large-scale pieces at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair Exhibition*.

Vonnoh was born in St. Louis, Missouri and moved with her family to Chicago where at age twenty one, she enrolled in Taft's sculpture class at the Art Institute of Chicago*.  At the World's Fair, she was much influenced by the small bronze figures of Russian sculptor Paul Troubetzkoy, and after the Fair, she began doing her own small bronze figures, which became very popular.

Encouraged by Taft, she went to Paris in 1895, and on her return, sculpted her much sought after work, The Young Mother, which was exhibited in 1976 as part of the Whitney Museum's Bicentennial sculpture show.

In 1899, she married painter Robert Vonnoh, and they lived in New York City and Old Lyme, Connecticut.  She continued to sculpt, and in 1913 had a one-woman show at the Brooklyn Museum.  In the 1920s, she began life-size work including a portrait of James Sherman that is in the United States Capitol building.  In 1921, she was elected an Academician of the National Academy of Design.  She died at age eighty-three.

American Women Artists by Charlotte Streifer Rubinstein

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary:

Biography from Rago Arts and Auction:
Bessie Onahotema Potter Vonnoh (1872-1955)

A Missouri-born sculptor, she was one of the most successful women artists of her generation.  Vonnoh studied at the Art Institute of Chicago under Lorado Taft and worked as his assistant.  Inspired by the statuettes of Paul Troubetzkoy, she began sculpting small figures in bronze.  These sculptures, particularly those of mothers and children, became quite popular; her work was frequently compared to that of painter Mary Cassatt.  Vonnah also achieved success as a sculptor of fountains and works for the garden.

After her marriage to painter Robert Vonnoh in 1899, the couple moved to New York, where they established a joint studio.  They also maintained a summer home in the art colony of Lyme, Connecticut.  Vonnoh exhibited widely throughout her career. She was elected a Member of the National Sculpture Society and an Academician of the National Academy.

Her work is in the collections of Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum in New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Denver Art Museum; the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas; and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia.

Her public commissions are installed in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina, Balboa Park in San Diego and Central Park in New York.

Biography from The Parrish House Museum:
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Bessie Vonnoh studied at the Art Institute of Chicago under Lorado Taft.  She met Augustus Saint-Gaudens in his studio in New York and Rodin in his studio in Paris.  She married artist Robert Vonnoh in 1899, only because he was willing to wait for her until she completed a major commission: a portrait of artist Maude Adams (famous as Peter Pan) for the 1900 Paris Exposition.  Their marriage was one of the few where both artists succeeded due to mutual respect and encouragement for each other's work and careers.

She was admitted to the National Sculpture Society in 1899, and had a solo exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum in 1913.  Her figure studies of mothers and children rival Mary Cassatt's work of the same genre.  She was the first woman sculptor to become a permanent member of the National Academy of Design.

Her work is in the collection of several museum in many countries including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Brooklyn Museum, the Carnegie Institute, the Corcoran Galleries of Art, the Philadelphia Academy, the Newark Museum, the Cincinnati Museum, the Detroit Institute Museum, the Roosevelt Memorial in Oyster Bay NY and the Central Park Memorial, also in NY.

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at

Bessie Vonnoh is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
New York Armory Show of 1913
Cornish Colony
Old Lyme Colony Painters
San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915
Most Unusual Names
Women Artists

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