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Bessie Potter Vonnoh papers, circa 1860-1991, bulk 1890-1955

A Finding Aid to the Bessie Potter Vonnoh Papers, circa 1860-1991 (bulk 1890-1955), in the Archives of American Art, by Erin Corley

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Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Table of Contents:

Biographical Information

Bessie Potter Vonnoh (1872-1955) was born in St. Louis, Missouri to Alexander and Mary McKenney Potter. In 1874, after the death of her father, her family moved to Chicago. Also at this time, she suffered from a series of illnesses that she did not recover from until she was ten. In school she enjoyed clay-modeling class and decided at an early age that she wanted to be a sculptor. Beginning in 1890 she studied with Lorado Taft at the Art Institute of Chicago and later became one of his assistants (known as the "White Rabbits") for the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. She was also given her own commission for the Illinois building at the fair. After this success, Vonnoh opened her own studio in Chicago and made plaster figurines of society women, friends, and their children. She visited New York and took her first trip to Paris in 1895, visiting the studios of many eminent sculptors such as Auguste Rodin. Her work was influenced by the American Impressionist movement, depicted in one of her most famous works, Young Mother. This piece was exhibited in the National Sculpture Society exhibition of 1898 and led to several public sculpture commissions.

In 1899 Bessie Potter Vonnoh moved to New York City and married Impressionist painter, Robert William Vonnoh (1858-1933). They lived in New York and maintained a summer home in Lyme, Connecticut. During her career she received many awards for her works at international exhibitions, including two bronze medals at the Paris Exposition in 1900. Other landmark events included a solo exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum in 1913 and membership into the National Academy of Design in 1921 - the first female sculptor accepted as a permanent member. Vonnoh's work was very well received by the public, and in the 1920s she began working on a larger scale, creating large fountains, such as the Frances Hodgson Burnett Memorial Fountain in Central Park, New York, and other decorative garden figures. Robert Vonnoh died in 1933 and, in 1948, she married Dr. Edward Keyes. Bessie Potter Vonnoh died in New York City in 1955 at the age of 82.

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Overview of the Collection

Scope and Contents

The papers of sculptor Bessie Potter Vonnoh measure 0.8 linear feet and date from circa 1860 to 1991, with the bulk of material dating from 1890 to 1955. The scattered papers document the personal life and career of Bessie Potter Vonnoh, and, to a lesser degree, her husband, painter Robert William Vonnoh. Found within the papers are Vonnoh family correspondence, including letters between Bessie and Robert, and primarily Bessie's professional and personal correspondence. There is one folder of correspondence of Robert William Vonnoh. Bessie's correspondents include Daniel Chester French, Hamlin Garland, Rupert Hughes, Archer Huntington, Larkin G. Mead, Jean Francois Raffaelli, Cornelia Otis Skinner, and others. Robert's correspondents include Charles M. Carter, Daniel Chester French, William M. R. French, and Charles Vezin. The collection also contains scattered biographical materials, photographs of Bessie Potter Vonnoh and Robert William Vonnoh, a photograph album, photographs of artwork, clippings, exhibition catalogs, and other printed material.

Arrangement and Series Description

The collection is arranged into 4 series:

Subjects and Names

This collection is indexed in the online catalog of the Archives of American Art under the following index terms. People, families and organizations are listed under "Subjects" when they are the topic of collection contents and under "Names" when they are creators or contributors.


  • Women sculptors -- New York (State)-- New York
  • Painters -- New York (State)-- New York
  • Landscape painters -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Portrait painters -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Artist couples

Types of Materials:

  • Photographs


  • Carter, Charles M., 1853-1929
  • French, Daniel Chester, 1850-1931
  • French, William M. R. (William Merchant Richardson), 1843-1914
  • Garland, Hamlin, 1860-1940
  • Hughes, Rupert, 1872-1956
  • Huntington, Archer M., 1870-1955
  • Mead, Larkin G. (Larkin Goldsmith), 1835-1910
  • Raffaëlli, Jean François, 1850-1924
  • Skinner, Cornelia Otis, 1901-
  • Vezin, Charles, 1858-1942
  • Vonnoh, Robert William, 1858-1933


The collection was donated in 1995 by Lulette Jenness Thompson, a cousin of Bessie Potter Vonnoh.

How the Collection was Processed

The Bessie Potter Vonnoh papers received a preliminary level of processing in 1996, and were fully processed by Erin Corley in 2006 and digitized in 2007 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

How to Use the Collection

Restrictions on Use

The collection has been digitized and is available online via AAA's website.

Ownership & Literary Rights

The Bessie Potter Vonnoh papers are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.

Available Formats

The collection was digitized in 2007 and is available via the Archives of American Art's website.

How to Cite this Collection

Bessie Potter Vonnoh papers, circa 1860-1991. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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Detailed Description and Container Inventory

Series 1: Biographical Material, 1922-1955
(Box 1; 5 folders)

Biographical material consists of a small amount of biographical information on Bessie Potter Vonnoh, including a resume, obituaries, and notes on her family history. Also found is an inventory and appraisal of Vonnoh's estate and various certificates for awards she received. This series also includes Robert Vonnoh's obituaries and a few of his writings.

Box Folder
1 1 Biographical Information on Bessie Potter Vonnoh, 1955, 19--
1 2 Appraisal, Estate of Bessie Potter Vonnoh Keyes, 1955
(Partially scanned)
1 3 Award Certificates, 1931, 1934
1 4 Robert Vonnoh Obituaries, 1933
1 5 Writings by Robert Vonnoh, 1922, 19--

Series 2: Correspondence, circa 1863-1985
(Box 1; 11 folders)

Correspondence primarily documents Bessie Potter Vonnoh's personal and family life, as well as her career as an artist. Included are letters (mostly transcripts) from Vonnoh, known as "Betty" to her family, to her mother regarding her trip to the Paris International Exposition in 1900 and a later trip to France in 1914. There are letters from Bessie to her husband, Robert Vonnoh, known as "Bonny". Also found are letters to her cousin Lulette Jenness Thompson regarding Vonnoh's career, and several letters from her uncle, J. S. McKenny. Personal and professional correspondence includes letters from Daniel Chester French, Hamlin Garland, Rupert Hughes, Archer Huntington, Larkin G. Mead, Jean Francois Raffaelli, Cornelia Otis Skinner, Mrs. Woodrow Wilson (Ellen Axson) and her daughter Jessie Wilson Sayre, and others. There is one folder of Robert Vonnoh's letters from Charles M. Carter, Daniel Chester French, William M. R. French, Charles Vezin, and others, and scattered family letters. Correspondence is arranged chronologically within each folder.

Box Folder
1 6 From Bessie Potter Vonnoh to Robert Vonnoh, circa 1909-1928
1 7 From Bessie Potter Vonnoh to her mother, Mary Potter, 1900
1 8 From Bessie Potter Vonnoh to her mother, Mary Potter, 1914
1 9 From Bessie Potter Vonnoh to Lulette Jenness Thompson, 1946-1953
1 10 To Bessie Potter Vonnoh from her uncle, J. S. McKenney, 1899-1904
1 11 Lulette Jenness Thompson Letters regarding Bessie Potter Vonnoh, 1952-1954, 1982, 1985
1 12 Robert Vonnoh Correspondence, 1899-1926
1 13 From William Vonnoh (Robert's father) to wife Friederika Vonnoh, circa 1863
1 14 General Correspondence, 1892-1914
1 15 General Correspondence, 1915-1947
1 16 General Correspondence, circa 1900-1950

Series 3: Photographs, circa 1860-1950
(Box 1-2; 0.4 linear feet)

Photographs include numerous portraits of Bessie and Robert Vonnoh, and photographs of the Vonnoh's together and with friends, Bessie's father, Bessie with her second husband, Edward Keyes, and the Vonnoh's home in Lyme, Connecticut. Also found are photographs of artwork by Bessie and Robert Vonnoh. Photographs are both loose and in a disbound photograph album.

Box Folder
1 17-18 Portraits of Bessie Potter Vonnoh, circa 1890-1950
(2 folders)
1 19 Portraits of Robert Vonnoh, circa 1890, 1930
1 20 Photographs of Bessie Potter Vonnoh and Robert Vonnoh with others, circa 1895-1930
1 21 Photograph of Bessie Potter Vonnoh and Edward Keyes, circa 1948
1 22 Photograph of Alexander Potter, circa 1860
Box Folder
2 1-5 Photograph Album (disbound), circa 1900-1930
(5 folders)
2 6-8 Photographs of Artwork by Bessie Potter Vonnoh, circa 1890-1950
(3 folders; not scanned)
2 9 Photographs of Artwork by Robert Vonnoh, circa 1890-1930
(Not scanned)

Series 4: Printed Material, 1901-1991
(Box 2; 9 folders)

Printed material consists of exhibition catalogs for both Bessie and Robert Vonnoh, including joint exhibitions, and newspaper and magazine clippings documenting their careers. Items are arranged chronologically within each folder.

Box Folder
2 10 Clippings, Bessie Potter Vonnoh, 1913-1928
2 11 Clippings, Bessie Potter Vonnoh, 1929-1952
2 12 Clippings, Robert Vonnoh, 1901-1928
2 13 Clippings, Robert and Bessie Potter Vonnoh joint exhibitions, 1913-1929
2 14-15 Exhibition Catalogs, Bessie Potter Vonnoh, 1926, 1984, 1987, 1990
(2 folders; partially scanned)
2 16 Exhibition Catalogs, Robert Vonnoh, 1911, 1987, 1991
(Partially scanned)
2 17 Exhibition Catalogs, Robert and Bessie Potter Vonnoh joint exhibitions, 1913, 1914, 1922, 1928
(Partially scanned)
2 18 Miscellaneous Printed Material, 1924, 1942, 1988