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.