National Museum of Women in the Arts
Bessie Potter Vonnoh
August 17 1872 - March 08 1955
Photograph of Bessie Potter Vonnoh, ca. 1913, unknown photographer, courtesy of Berry-Hill Galleries, New York, NY, USA
Place of Birth:
St. Louis
Phonetic Spelling:
BEH-see PAH-terr VOH-noh
Minority status:
White non-Hispanic
Work Type/Media:
Decorative and utilitarian works, Sculpture
Artistic Role(s):
Bronze Worker, Decorative Artist, Sculptor
Artist's Biography:
Bessie Potter Vonnoh enjoyed a long and successful career at a time when it was still unusual for an American woman to make sculpture. A native of St. Louis, Vonnoh suffered a series of baffling illnesses that kept her partially paralyzed from the ages of two through ten. She recovered but remained physically small, reaching height of just four feet, eight inches.

Vonnoh was raised in Chicago, where her family had moved in 1874. She so enjoyed the clay-modeling classes at school that, by fourteen, she had decided to become a sculptor. As a teenager she studied at the School of The Art Institute of Chicago under Lorado Taft, a noted, Paris-trained, American sculptor who later employed Vonnoh as one of his assistants making sculpture for the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. This experience enabled the twenty-two-year-old Vonnoh to open her own Chicago studio, where she began modeling small delicately tinted plaster portraits of her friends. These proved so popular that Vonnoh was able to take her first trip to Europe in 1895, during which she met Auguste Rodin, who was to become an important influence.

On her return to Chicago the following year, Vonnoh achieved fame with Young Mother, 1896, a tabletop-size image of a woman cradling her infant. This work received enthusiastic reviews and became one of Vonnoh’s most sought-after sculptures. As the artist’s reputation continued to grow, she also received several commissions for monumental public art.

In 1899, Vonnoh married the painter Robert William Vonnoh and moved with him to New York, where they resided until his death in 1933. Her career continued to prosper. She received many medals, had important one-woman exhibitions, and in the 1920s, expanded her oeuvre to included large sculptural fountains and decorative garden figures.

Place(s) of Residence:
New York
Where Trained/Schools:
School of The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA (1889-1891, 1886)
Related Visual Artists:
wife of Robert William Vonnoh friend of Augustus Gaudens friend and student of Lorado Taft influenced by Auguste Rodin
Fellowships, grants and awards:
Elizabeth N. Watrous Gold Medal, National Academy of Design, New York, NY, USA (1921) Silver Medal, Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, CA, USA (1915) Gold Medal, Louisiana Purchase Exposition, St. Louis, MO, USA (1904)
Earliest exhibition:
Annual Exhibition, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA (1891)
NMWA exhibition(s):
American Women Artists: 1830-1930
Four Centuries of Women's Art: The National Museum of Women in the Arts
Artist retrospective(s):
Related places
New York (died at)