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BESSIE POTTER VONNOH
"Life and Love Springs from the Sea", 1935
inscribed "Bessie Potter Vonnoh", cast by Roman Bronze Works
113 x 68 inches
- Provenance: Mr. and Mrs. Walter Teagle, Port Chester, New York (commissioned in 1935 for their now demolished pool house).
Literature: Julie Aronson, "Bessie Potter Vonnoh (1872-1955) and Small Bronze Sculpture in America", Volume I, PhD dissertation, (Newark, DE: University of Delaware, 1995), pp. 402-404, illustrated figs. 135, 136; Julie Aronson, "Bessie Potter Vonnoh: Sculptor of Women", (Athens, Ohio: Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio University Press, 2008), pp. 212-213, illustrated fig. 85.
Born in St. Louis, Bessie Potter Vonnoh became one of the leading female sculptors of the 20th century. Her bronzes often depicted domestic and feminine subjects such as childhood and motherhood. Born in 1872, she left St. Louis in 1886 to study drawing and painting at the Art Institute of Chicago. She took modeling classes with Larado Taft and assisted him with sculpture for the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893.
In 1894, Vonnoh had set up her own studio in Chicago. She told an interviewer in 1925 that her artistic goal was to "look for beauty in the everyday world , to catch the joy and swing of modern American life." Her "Potterines", plaster portraits of society ladies brought her recognition early on. She traveled to Paris in 1895 to visit the studio of Rodin and a year later created A Young Mother, still considered one of her best works.
She continued to explore the psychological expression of motherhood through her work as well as modern women reading and dancing. Her bronzes were exhibited at the National Academy of Design, the Society of American Artists, the National Sculpture Society and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Roman Bronze Works, the preeminent American Foundry at the beginning of the twentieth century, began casting large editions of her works.
Vonnoh moved to New York in 1897 after an eight-month trip to Europe. In 1899, after completing several major commissions, she married the landscape painter Robert W. Vonnoh, who she had met in Taft's studio. Both artists frequently exhibited together in New York and at their summer home in Lyme, Connecticut.
In 1921, Vonnoh was elected a full academician at the National Academy. In the 1920s, following in the footsteps of Janet Scudder, she turned her attention to lifesize fountain pieces. She created the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Bird Fountain from 1923-1927 at the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Sanctuary in Oyster Bay, New York and the Frances Hodgson Burnett Memorial Fountain 1926-1936 in the Conservatory Garden of Central Park.
It was during this stage in her career that Mr. and Mrs. Walter C. Teagle of Port Chester, New York commissioned Vonnoh to create a sculpture fountain for a wall niche near their indoor swimming pool. Life and Love Spring From the Sea is a nautical sculpture that depicts a boy riding on the prow of a ship. Biographer Julie Aronson in her monograph on the artist notes the following:
"Within the sculpture are several different levels of relief and varying degrees of naturalism. The boy's figure and his flying drapery are fully three dimensional and the boat is in very high relief, creating the illusion of sailing out into the pool. The boy's grinning countenance, framed by tight ringlets, has the character of a portrait. In marked contrast, the water and dolphins have been flattened and converted into a multi-level decorative pattern. This stylization is unlike anything else the artist has ever designed; one wonders if it might have devolved from her friendship with Beatrice Hoffman, who was weaving tapestries based on her husband's paintings of undersea views. The niche is surrounded by a frame ornamented with grapes and vines. Scallop shells punctuate the corners.
Viewed obliquely from across the pool, the whole comes together remarkably well and harmonizes with the wall treatment. Vonnoh clearly took pains with the relation of the boy's head to the band of decoration at the top of the tile. The amount of thought, planning and effort that must have gone into producing such a complicated sculpture exceeded anything the sixty-three-year-old sculptor had attempted for years. The degree of complexity is reflected in the cost of the casting-fourteen hundred dollars more than for any other sculpture the artist had produced. She was presumably paid well for her efforts, a welcome relief to her financial woes."1
Throughout her long career it became evident that Vonnoh would be a significant figure in the history of American sculpture. In 1903 a reviewer noted, "It would be useless and unprofitable to compare Mrs. Vonnoh with other American sculptors, because her work occupies its own special and well-defined place, just as the works of Patridge, Saint-Gaudens, French, Barnard and MacMonnies have their own respective characteristics sharply drawn and accentuated. In her own field — the field of the statuette—Mrs. Vonnoh has no superiors in this country."2
Life and Love Springs from the Sea is one of Bessie Vonnoh's last commissions. At Mrs. Teagle's death in 1968, the property was sold and subdivided. Although the great house (Lee Shore) was demolished at that time, the swimming pool wing remained intact until 2008. A photograph of the sculpture in situ is included here for reference.
1 Julie Alane Aronson, Bessie Potter Vonnoh (1872-1955) and Small Bronze Sculpture in America, Volume I, PhD dissertation, Newark, DE: University of Delaware, 1995, pp. 402-404.
2 "A Sculptor of Statuettes," in Current Literature 34 (June 1903): 701.
tags: sculpture, female artist, woman artist, 20th century, bronze, fountain, pool house, figurative, large-scale, woman
Condition: overall very good to excellent condition; additional photos available upon request
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