Jo Davidson


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(1883–1952). Sculptor. The vigorous naturalism of his portraits suited his interest in individual personality. Adept at both carving and modeling, in either technique Davidson captured facial verisimilitude with great sensitivity to flesh as well as bone structure, while also suggesting individual character through facial expression. He portrayed world leaders of his time, including Woodrow Wilson (1916), Mahatma Gandhi (1931), and on several occasions, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Ignace Paderewski (1920), Joseph Conrad (1916), and André Gide (1931) numbered among numerous creative luminaries who sat for him. He lived much of his adult life in France, although he frequently visited the United States and resided during World War II in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. A New York native, Joseph Davidson studied at the Art Students League and for a few months attended classes at Yale University. In 1903 he became a studio assistant for Hermon MacNeil. Four years later, he departed for Paris, where he pursued formal training only briefly, imbibed the spirit of Rodin's work, and socialized with the community of progressive American artists. Although his art remained relatively untouched by avant-garde movements, it was considered modern in its day because it deviated from academic practice. His early work includes allegorical figures, which later recurred occasionally. A lively early portrait of John Marin (1908) suggests why portraiture became his mainstay. Davidson exhibited in the Armory Show and by the end of World War I had acquired an international reputation. In his desire to leave a historical record of his time, he sought out many of his sitters. Between 1918 and 1920, he executed the fourteen likenesses of his Peace Conference series taken from major participants in the World War I treaty negotiations, including Georges Clemenceau (1920) and General John J. Pershing (1919). At the height of his fame, Davidson portrayed a vast range of celebrities, ranging from Will Rogers (1938) to Albert Einstein (1934) and Frank Sinatra (1946). Among his most famous works is a life-size, seated rendition of a Buddha like Gertrude Stein (1922). Because they could be editioned from rapidly produced clay models, most of his portraits are bronze casts. He also frequently made variants of a specific image, such as the Gertrude Stein, in more than one size. He died near Tours, at the estate that had been his primary residence since 1926. In 1951 he published a memoir, Between Sittings: An Informal Autobiography. His second wife, painter and sculptor Florence Gertrude Lucius (1887/88–1962), studied at the Art Students League and with Émile-Antoine Bourdelle in Paris. She married Davidson in 1941 and died in New York.

From The Oxford Dictionary of American Art and Artists in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Art.

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