Bessie Potter Vonnoh

(1872-1955)

Born in Saint Louis, Missouri, Bessie Potter Vonnoh enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago at age fourteen. She spent the next several years studying drawing and painting before enrolling in modeling classes with the sculptor Loredo Taft. The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 offered Vonnoh one of her earliest professional opportunities. She modeled an allegorical figure, "Art" for the Illinois State Building, and also assisted Taft with decorative sculpture for the fair. Vonnoh traveled to Paris in 1895 and visited Auguste Rodin in his studio, an event that had a profound impact on her development. She moved to New York in 1897, where she remained based for the rest of her career.

In the mid-1890s, Vonnoh began to compose the small-scale figurative arrangements of women and children that defined her career. "A Young Mother" is among her first treatments of this theme. The sculpture was extremely popular in its own day. Many casts were made, and it was acquired by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Early casts were executed in plaster. Bronze casts date from about 1899, the year that Vonnoh registered the copyright for the piece. The model for the figure of the mother was the wife of sculptor Alexander Phimister Proctor. The critic Frank Owen Payne observed that "Vonnoh’'s “mothers and children are not young goddesses rollicking with plump cherubim, but grave and tender women who have sacrificed without regret some of their youthful freshness to the children they hold in their arms”." (as quoted in Julie Alane Aronson, "Bessie Potter Vonnoh" (1872-1955) and "Small Bronze Sculpture in America", unpublished Ph.D. Diss., University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware, 1995, p. 235).