Jo Davidson

Jo Davidson

Jo Davidson (March 30, 1883 – January 2, 1952) was an American sculptor of Russian - Jewish descent. Although he specialized in realistic, intense portrait busts, Davidson did not require his subjects to formally pose for him; rather, he observed and spoke with them. He worked primarily with clay, while the final products were typically cast in terra-cotta, marble and bronze.

Born in New York City, Davidson attended Yale University before moving to Paris to study sculpture at " [ École nationale supérieure des beaux arts] " in 1907. After returning to the United States, he was befriended by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, who purchased some of Davidson's work.

In 1911 Davidson secured his first solo gallery shows; in 1934 he won the National Academy of Design's Maynard Prize, and in 1947 the American Academy of Arts and Letters hosted a retrospective featuring nearly 200 of his works. He was one of 250 sculptors who exhibited in the 3rd Sculpture International held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the summer of 1949.

Among Davidson's commissions are a design for a United States War Industries badge, a collection of pieces for the Government of France to commemorate the first victory of the "Troupes de Marine" and bronze busts of the leaders of the Allies. His portraits of world leaders and celebrated personalities gained him international acclaim, and included such luminaries as Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Rudyard Kipling, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Andrew Mellon, Will Rogers, John D. Rockefeller, Joseph Conrad, Anatole France, Lincoln Steffens, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Marshall Ferdinand Foch, General John J. Pershing, John Marin, Rabindranath Tagore, Frank Harris, Israel Zangwill, Charlie Chaplin, Robert M. La Follette, Clarence Darrow, Émile Coué (who was also a sculptor in his spare time), H. G. Wells, Robinson Jeffers, Andre Gide. George Bernard Shaw, James Barrie, Arthur Conan Doyle,D. H. Lawrence, W. Averell Harriman, Madame Chiang Kai-shek, Dolores Ibárruri, aka "La Passionaria", Helen Keller, Mahatma Gandhi, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ida Rubinstein, Albert Einstein, Carl Sandburg, Marshall Tito, E. W. Marland and Walt Whitman. Will Rogers' statue is a full-body bronze portrait erected at the United States Capitol in 1939. Walt Whitman's portrait is also a full-body bronze, and stands in Bear Mountain State Park, New York. Some of Davidson's work is in the National Gallery of Art and in the Capitol Building where he has placed two works, "Will Rogers" of Oklahoma and "Robert M. La Follette" of Wisconsin in the National Statuary Hall, and busts of two vice-presidents, "Henry A. Wallace" and "Charles G. Dawes", all of which are located in Washington, D.C.. He also designed a statue of Henry D. Thoreau, the author of WALDEN. The statue is located at Walden Pond State Reservation in Concord, MA.

In 2006, The Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery opened a permanent exhibition, "Jo Davidson: Biographer in Bronze", showcasing fourteen Davidson works in terracotta and bronze, including portraits of Gertrude Stein and Lincoln Steffens.

Political Activity

Davidson was chairman of the Committee of Arts and Sciences, a pressure group composed of writers, scientists and other creative people who supported the policies of President Franklin Roosevelt. In 1946 this group merged with the Political Action Committee (PAC) of which he became co-chairman (the other chairman being Dr. Frank Kingdon). After Roosevelt's death the PAC was instrumental in promoting the candidacy of Henry Wallace and his Progressive Party in the election campaign of 1948.


* Armstrong, Craven et al, "220 Years of American Sculpture," Whitney Museum of Art & David R. Goodine, Publisher, NY 1976
* "Compilation of Works of Art and Other Objects in the United States Capitol", Prepared by the Architect of the Capitol under the Direction of the Joint Committee on the Library, United States Government Printing Office, Washington D.C. 1965
* Connor, Janis and Joel Rosenkranz, photographs by David Finn, "Rediscoveries in American Sculpture: Studio Works, 1893 - 1939", University of Texas Press, Austin TX 1989
* Craven, Wayne, "Sculpture in America: From the Colonial Period to the Present", Thomas Y, Crowell Company, NY 1968
* Davidsin, Jo, "Between Sittings: an informal autobiography", The Dial Press, NY 1951
* Kuhn, Lois Harris, "The World of Jo Davidson", Covenant Books, Jewish Publication Society 1958
* [ Homepage of the National Portrait Gallery] , Washington, DC: Permanent Exhibitions.

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