Photo Essays

From Poseurs to Pros: Artists and Their Models

by Mostafa Heddaya on June 13, 2014

Storrs

Art students posing their model, photographer unknown. John Storrs papers. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. (all images courtesy the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art)

The model is the message in Artists and Their Models, an exhibition currently on view at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art in Washington. A comprehensive structural account of the métier of artist’s modeling in the first half of the twentieth century, the exhibition encompasses a wide range of primary documents relating to fine art modeling at a time when the practice began to professionalize and attitudes towards nudity and obscenity liberalized.

Letters of note commingle with photographs and personal ephemera; an early dues book for a Models’ Guild joins a politically-charged epistle from the National Academy censuring Congressman Clifton A. Woodrum for criticizing the Works Progress Administration (WPA) on the grounds that some participating artists kept nude images of models as references. A transcription of Max Weber‘s reminiscences of a 1908 class with Matisse has the artist holding forth on the “early years of the modern art movement in Paris, when the art of painting was still painting and sculpture was still sculpture.”

Pioneering models are also highlighted, including the bodybuilder Tony Sansone, and Florence Allen, an African-American from San Francisco who posed for Wayne Thiebaud, Mark Rothko, and Diego Rivera. You can also listen to model Anton Kamp share a humorous account of posing for painter John Singer Sargent.

Beach

Model Tony Sansone posing, photographer unknown. Chester Beach papers. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Allen

Florence Allen’s dues book for the San Francisco Models’ Guild. Florence Allen papers. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Bransom

The Teton Art Association’s Monday art class taught by Paul Bransom, Jim Elder photographer. Paul Bransom papers. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Cleo

Posing schedule for Cleo Dorman. Cleo papers. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

deCreeft

Lorrie Goulet, Donna Maria de Creeft, and José de Creeft at the dedication of the Alice in Wonderland statue in Central Park, photographer unknown. José de Creeft papers. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Dickinson

Eleanor Dickinson sketching model Cory Weldon at Dickinson’s exhibit Line Drawing, photographer unknown. Eleanor Dickinson papers. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Rowan

Life class at the Stone City Art Colony, John Barry, Jr. photographer. Edward Beatty Rowan papers. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Thayer

Bessie Price posing for Abbott Thayer’s painting Stevenson Memorial, photographer unknown. Abbott Handerson Thayer and Thayer family papers. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

vanderValk

Model Anna-Lisa van der Valk’s card. Eleanor Dickinson papers. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Weber

“The Matisse Class” speech by Max Weber. Max Weber papers. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

WoodGraham1

“The Story of My Portrait” by Nan Wood Graham. William Benton papers. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

WoodGraham2

“The Story of My Portrait” by Nan Wood Graham. William Benton papers. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

WoodGraham3

“The Story of My Portrait” by Nan Wood Graham. William Benton papers. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Artists and Their Models continues at the Lawrence A. Fleischman Gallery at the Smithsonian’s Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture (8th and F Streets NW, Washington, DC) through August 27.

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