Jo Davidson, American Portrait sculptor, 1883-1952
Joe Davidson is one of the most well-known American portrait sculptors of the 20th Century. He was born in New York City of Russian Jewish immigrants. At the age of 18, he was sent to Yale to study medicine, but there, he quickly found that his calling was sculpture. He began his working life in the New York studio of another sculptor, Herman McNeil. In 1907 he moved to Paris to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and the European sculptural tradition is evident in the work which followed after his return to the United States.
His friendship with Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, herself a sculptor and patron of the arts, bought some of Davidson's work and was herself portrayed by him . He sculpted many important people of his day including the writer Gertrude Stein, Charlie Chaplin and Vice President of the United States, Henry Wallace in 1944. He has now been properly recognised in the National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC, with an entire gallery devoted solely to his work. A visit to this gallery is a worthwhile venture for any aspiring portrait sculptor, and it is interesting to note how he responded stylistically to reflect his perception of his subjects.