Artists and Their Models

May 15 to August 27, 2014
Exhibited in the Lawrence A. Fleischman Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Voices of Artists and Models

Model Anton Kamp shares a humorous account of posing for John Singer Sargent

Play it: Audio excerpt (1:02)
Learn more: Recollections of John Singer Sargent

Elmer Bischoff on the importance of life drawing

Play it: Audio excerpt (0:49)
Read it: Oral history interview with Elmer Bischoff, 1977

Anna Hyatt–Huntington on the challenges of working with animal models

Play it: Audio excerpt (1:02 )
Read it: Oral history interview with Anna Hyatt-Huntington, circa 1964

Video excerpts from The Models, 1977, Eleanor Dickinson papers


Join us for free gallery talks June 20 at 4:30 p.m. and July 11 at 1:00 p.m. in the Lawrence A. Fleischman Gallery. The June 20 gallery talk will precede Drawing at Dusk!, a Smithsonian American Art Museum program offering the opportunity to sketch from a live model in the Luce Center within the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture.

The model has long been essential to the work of the artist. They often serve as artists’ muses—mortals who can sometimes be almost otherworldly in their ability to inspire creativity—yet a talent for holding still is often more important than beauty. Models are too often given short shrift in art history, their names and stories left unknown unless their fame came by way of scandal.

From reminiscences of artists to tales of rambunctious animal models and children who posed for their parents, these letters, photographs, and objects from the Archives of American Art illuminate the stories of artists and their models.

View Items from This Exhibition

Artists and Their Models

Little Paris Group in Lois Jones' studio

Little Paris Group in Lois Jones' studio, 1948

From left to right: Barbara Buckner, Celine Tabary, Delilah Pierce, Elizabeth Williamson, Bruce Brown, Barbara Linger, Frank West, Don Roberts, Richard Dempsey, Russel Nesbit (model), Lois Mailou Jones, Alma Thomas, and Desdemona Wade.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Hans Hofmann and his Munich class posing with their model

Hans Hofmann and his Munich class posing with their model, circa 1926

Hofmann is in the front row, second from right.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Art students posing with an artists' model

Art students posing with an artists' model, circa 1912

John Storrs is seated, second from left.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Hans Hofmann teaching a life class at the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts

Hans Hofmann teaching a life class at the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts, circa 1945

Hans Hofmann teaching a life class at the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts, Provincetown, Massachusetts, ca. 1945.

Learn More


Artists and Their Models

Sketching class on the beach in Provincetown

Sketching class on the beach in Provincetown, ca. 1936

Live model class on the beach, Provincetown, Massachusetts, ca. 1936.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Students in a life class at the Stone City Colony and Art School

Students in a life class at the Stone City Colony and Art School, 1933

Creator: John W. Barry

Standing in the back of the room are Stone City founders Grant Wood and Adrian Dornbush, and instructor Marvin Cone.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Children at a free Federal Art Project art class

Children at a free Federal Art Project art class, 1939 Jul. 14

Creator: Federal Art Project

Federal Art Project art education class for children, July 14, 1939.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Art class at Oldfields School in Glencoe, Maryland

Art class at Oldfields School in Glencoe, Maryland, 1935?

Creator: Harry B. Leopold

Art class at Oldfields School, Glencoe, Maryland, ca. 1935.

Learn More


Artists and Their Models

The Monday animal art class conducted by Paul Bransom

The Monday animal art class conducted by Paul Bransom, 1959

Creator: Jim Elder

Paul Bransom’s animal art class at the Teton Artists Associated, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, 1959.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Walt Kuhn volume 3 photo album, Germany

Walt Kuhn volume 3 photo album, Germany, circa 1901-1904

Creator: Walt Kuhn

Animal life class attended by Walt Kuhn in Germany, ca. 1902.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Catalog of courses for the summer school of the Art Students' League of New York

Catalog of courses for the summer school of the Art Students' League of New York, 1928

Creator: Art Students League (New York, N.Y.)

Life drawing is an essential part of the artist’s education. Students begin drawing the human form from plaster casts, before moving on to anatomical study and then graduating to the live model.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Ecole des Beaux-Arts student card for Frederick William MacMonnies

Ecole des Beaux-Arts student card for Frederick William MacMonnies, 1884

Creator: Ecole nationale supérieure des beaux-arts (France)

Many young American art students, like sculptor Frederick William MacMonnies, studied abroad.

Learn More


Artists and Their Models

Students dissecting a cadaver at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts

Students dissecting a cadaver at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, circa 1882

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Sculpture class at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Sculpture class at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, circa 1888

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Sketch of an artists' model holding rope for support

Sketch of an artists' model holding rope for support, 18--?

In older studios it was common to have ropes and pulleys hanging from the ceiling, which models used to support their arms.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Sketch of an artists' model using a wedge for support

Sketch of an artists' model using a wedge for support, 18--?

Props like chairs, wedges, and staffs were used to assist models in long poses.

Learn More


Artists and Their Models

Alberto Giacometti and artists' model Carmen Damedoz

Alberto Giacometti and artists' model Carmen Damedoz, 1922

Creator: Marion Walton

Traditionally, studios where life classes were held were equipped with a model stand—usually near the stove for warmth.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Suggestions for action sketches

Suggestions for action sketches, 1929 Oct. 23

Creator: Hope B. McCloskey

Life drawing classes generally begin with the model warming up with a series of short gestural, or action, poses lasting 60 to 90 seconds. Longer poses, which require a model to stay perfectly still, might last for 20 to 30 minutes (with breaks), repeated over several sessions.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

William Cushing Loring letter to his parents

William Cushing Loring letter to his parents, 1901 Dec. 27

Creator: William Cushing Loring

As a young art student in London and Paris, William Cushing Loring (1879–1959) regularly wrote home to his parents in Massachusetts, chronicling his classes, social engagements, and work. Describing an elderly man he engaged as a model, a former sailor with a “wrinkled toothless visage,” Loring writes: “He reminds me many times of the old characters of Dickens’ books. — It is the first time he has ever posed and all the artists are demanding his address . . .”

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Worthington Whittredge manuscript of autobiography

Worthington Whittredge manuscript of autobiography, circa 1905

Creator: Worthington Whittredge

Painter Worthington Whittredge (1820–1910), while a student of Emanuel Leutze, posed for the figure of George Washington in Leutze’s famous Washington Crossing the Delaware. (Houdon’s bust of Washington was the model for the head.) In his autobiography, Whittredge recalls: “I stood for two hours without moving . . . Clad in Washington’s full uniform, his heavy chapeau and all, spy glass in one hand and the other on my knee I stood and was nearly dead when the operation was over. They poured champagne down my throat and I lived through it.”

Learn More


Artists and Their Models

Max Weber speech on his class with Henri Matisse

Max Weber speech on his class with Henri Matisse, 1951

Creator: Max Weber

While studying in Paris, painter Max Weber (1881–1961) joined Henri Matisse’s first private class in 1908. They met in a large studio space at the Couvent des Oiseaux (Convent of the Birds) and sketched from a draped model in the courtyard gardens when the weather cooperated.


In his lecture for a symposium at the Museum of Modern Art, Weber shares his experiences in the Parisian art world, Leo and Gertrude Steins’ salons, and Matisse’s teaching methods: “He insisted upon good logical construction of the figure, and he did not [disapprove] of the study of anatomy nor the use of the plumb line!”

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Cleo Dorman scrapbook

Cleo Dorman scrapbook, 1927-1950

Cleo Dorman (1908–1990) wrote of her first experience on the model’s stand: “I had perspiration dripping off me and I almost hypmotized [sic] looking into a spotlight because I thought that if I was going to be a model, I couldn’t move, not so much as move a finger or my eyes.”

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Model contract for Cleo Dorman

Model contract for Cleo Dorman, 1937

Creator: Carnegie Institute of Technology

Cleo modeled at art schools throughout the country and posed for artists as diverse as Raphael Soyer, Sister Corita Kent, and Chuck Jones, creator of Bugs Bunny. Years spent on the model’s stand inspired her to study art herself, but modeling remained her primary career.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Posing schedule for Cleo Dorman

Posing schedule for Cleo Dorman, 1937 October 18

Creator: Carnegie Institute of Technology

Learn More


Artists and Their Models

Charles Shepard Chapman

Charles Shepard Chapman, ca. 1920

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Philip Leslie Hale with model

Philip Leslie Hale with model, ca. 1930

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Reginald Marsh art notebook #4, models and expenses

Reginald Marsh art notebook #4, models and expenses, 1934-1954

Creator: Reginald Marsh

Artist Reginald Marsh (1898–1954) kept a dedicated address book for the women and men who posed for him. Marsh sometimes added thumbnail sketches as reminders of a model’s physical type.


A model of note who appears in this book is the actress Maureen Stapleton, who worked for several artists, including Marsh.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Richard McDermott Miller address book for artists' models

Richard McDermott Miller address book for artists' models, 196-

Creator: Richard McDermott Miller

Richard McDermott Miller (1922–2004) routinely recorded information about models’ hair, skin tones, body types, in addition to their contact information. On one occasion, he made a cautionary note: “mother does not know posing is nude.”


The dancer and choreographer Meredith Monk, who sat for Miller, is found among the names in this book.

Learn More


Artists and Their Models

Walt Kuhn model contact book

Walt Kuhn model contact book, 194-

Creator: Walt Kuhn

Walt Kuhn’s (1877–1949) model book also served as a file for model releases, listing addresses, phone numbers, and models’ signatures acknowledging payment.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Marguerite Bouvè business card

Marguerite Bouvè business card, circa 1910

Early examples of models’ cards look like the calling cards of gentlewomen, lending an air of respectability to a vocation that was viewed with suspicion.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Dorothy Reade visiting card

Dorothy Reade visiting card, circa 1910

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Richard M. Samuel's modeling card

Richard M. Samuel's modeling card, 1950 May

Later it was common for models to include a photograph on their card.

Learn More


Artists and Their Models

Terry Koch posing

Terry Koch posing, 197-?

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Anna-Lisa van der Valk's business card

Anna-Lisa van der Valk's business card, 199-?

Creator: Anna-lisa van der Valk

Model Anna–Lisa van der Valk printed a lipstick kiss on one side of her card and contact information on the other.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

San Francisco Models' Guild spring membership roster

San Francisco Models' Guild spring membership roster, 1981

Creator: San Francisco Models' Guild

The San Francisco Models’ Guild issued rosters of available models several times a year, listing models’ sex, height, weight, hair, and skin tone. Descriptions included evocative images such as “Renaissance face” and “long and lovely.”

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Florence Allen posing for a drawing class at the California School of Fine Arts

Florence Allen posing for a drawing class at the California School of Fine Arts, 1948 May 4

Creator: Harry Bowden

Florence Allen (1913–1997) was San Francisco’s most legendary artists’ model, posing for Wayne Thiebaud, Glenn Wessels, Joan Brown, Elmer Bischoff, Eleanor Dickinson, Mark Rothko, Diego Rivera, and others. After retiring from modeling, Allen was the model coordinator at the California College of Arts and Crafts, where she taught a course on fine art modeling.

Learn More


Artists and Their Models

Florence Allen's membership book and working card for the San Francisco Models' Guild

Florence Allen's membership book and working card for the San Francisco Models' Guild, 1946 Feb. 13?

Creator: American Federation of Labor

In 1946, Florence Allen became a founding member of the San Francisco Models’ Guild, still operating today as the Bay Area Models’ Guild.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Constitution and bylaws of San Francisco Models' Guild

Constitution and bylaws of San Francisco Models' Guild, 1952

Creator: San Francisco Models' Guild

As the nation’s first non–profit, independent union for models, the San Francisco Models’ Guild ensured protections for its members, such as mandatory rest periods; in turn, it held models to high standards of conduct.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Ida Soyer dancing

Ida Soyer dancing, 193-?

The flexibility and athleticism that come from training in sports and dance help a model hold difficult poses for extended periods of time.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Two wrestlers

Two wrestlers, 191-?

With well–developed muscles and lithe bodies, athletes and dancers are ideal models for many artists.

Learn More


Artists and Their Models

Two men wrestling in a courtyard

Two men wrestling in a courtyard, 191-?

Defined musculature was a desirable trait for men posing for allegorical works, in which gods and men had idealized figures.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Mills Thompson posing for Violet Oakley's Dante window

Mills Thompson posing for Violet Oakley's Dante window, circa 1911

In a series of reference photographs for Violet Oakley’s (1874–1961) Dante Window, Mills Thompson, an illustrator and friend, poses as the poet Dante.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Models posing for Violet Oakley's Dante window

Models posing for Violet Oakley's Dante window, circa 1911

A female model, probably Henrietta Cozens, poses as Virgil in a scene from Dante’s Inferno. These photographs reveal some of Oakley’s studio practice. The models were photographed against a grid to aid Oakley in the scale and proportion of her figures.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Advertisement for Tony Sansone's book Modern classics

Advertisement for Tony Sansone's book Modern classics, 1932?

After a sickly childhood, bodybuilder and model Tony Sansone (1905–1987) began to develop his muscles. Primarily a physique model, Sansone worked frequently with photographers Edwin F. Townsend and Achille Volpe, who sought to raise the artistic level of physique photography. Townsend and Sansone together produced several books, including Modern Classics, in which Sansone struck the poses of classical Greek statuary. As an artists’ model, Sansone posed for sculptors Chester Beach, Arthur Lee, James Earle Fraser, and Malvina Hoffman.

Learn More


Artists and Their Models

Artist's model Tony Sansone executing a handstand pose

Artist's model Tony Sansone executing a handstand pose, not after 1930

Here Sansone executes a pose on the roof deck of the Washington Baths, Coney Island, which was modeled in Chester Beach’s sculpture, Sun, Mist, and Sea.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Alberto Vargas business card

Alberto Vargas business card, between 1940 and 1950

Creator: Alberto Vargas

Peruvian–born illustrator Alberto Vargas (1896–1982) arrived in New York City in 1916. There he met showgirl Anna Mae Clift, who became his lifelong model, wife, and love of his life.


In 1940 Esquire published his first “Varga Girl” (the magazine dropped the final S). The sexual frankness of his pin–ups brought attention to both Vargas and Esquire, along with charges of obscenity.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Alberto Vargas business card

Alberto Vargas business card, after 1950

Creator: Alberto Vargas

In the 1960s Vargas began to draw “Vargas Girls” for Playboy magazine.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Delila Aluotto letter to Alberto Vargas

Delila Aluotto letter to Alberto Vargas, 194-?

Creator: Delila Aluotto

Among Vargas’s papers are many fan letters, particularly from servicemen. This letter from aspiring model Delila Aluotto expresses her admiration and inquires about posing, promising that she has “a beautiful set of legs.”

Learn More


Artists and Their Models

Enrique Riverón essay on Kiki de Montparnasse

Enrique Riverón essay on Kiki de Montparnasse, 1969 May 23

Creator: Enrique Riverón

Born Alice Prin (1901–1953), Kiki de Montparnasse began posing nude at age 14, prompting her mother to kick her out of the house. Despite a difficult life, she was a free spirit synonymous with bohemian 1920s Paris. Kiki sat for artists Moïse Kisling, Per Krogh, Jules Pascin, Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita, and others. Her romantic relationship with photographer Man Ray produced one of the most iconic images of 20th–century photography, Violin d’Ingres.


In his essay on Kiki, Cuban–American artist Enrique Riverón remembers her as a woman who shaved off her eyebrows so she could paint them on every day according to her mood: “To say that Kiki was graceful and lively is not to say everything.”

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Figure sketches

Figure sketches, circa 1960

Creator: David Park

David Park (1911–1960) was a key figure in the Bay Area Figurative Art Movement of the 1950s and ‘60s. He often hosted informal life drawing sessions at his home or studio, with Elmer Bischoff, Richard Diebenkorn, and other Bay Area artists. Through his figurative work he sought to free himself from the limitations of non–objective art. Park taught life drawing at California School of Fine Arts and at the University of California, Berkeley.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Eleanor Dickinson sketching model Cory Weldon at Dickinson's exhibit Line drawing

Eleanor Dickinson sketching model Cory Weldon at Dickinson's exhibit Line drawing, 1975 between Oct. 8 - Dec. 14

The model is central to Eleanor Dickinson’s (born 1931) artistic practice. For her 1975 solo show Line Drawing in San Francisco, she drew from a model in the museum space, continually replacing drawings on the walls with new work, to create an ever–changing encounter between artist, model, and viewer.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Catalog for Eleanor Dickinson: line drawing exhibition

Catalog for Eleanor Dickinson: line drawing exhibition, 1975

Creator: Eleanor Creekmore Dickinson

Learn More


Artists and Their Models

Eleanor Dickinson at her exhibit Line drawing

Eleanor Dickinson at her exhibit Line drawing, 1975 between Oct. 8 - Dec. 14

Creator: Robert Isaacs

Sympathetic to models of all ages and sizes, Dickinson brought a broad range of models into her classroom at the California College of Arts and Crafts: “The models always posed nude, which upset some students who had never seen a very elderly person nude—or one very fat or scarred . . . but I thought it a very important aspect of dealing honestly and well with the human form.”

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Bessie Price, Annie Price, Edward Meehan, and Delia Duke

Bessie Price, Annie Price, Edward Meehan, and Delia Duke, circa 1895

Creator: Henry D. (Henry Darracott) Allison

In 1896, at age 16, Bessie Price left Ireland for America to join her siblings working in the household of painter Abbott Thayer (1849–1921). Upon meeting her, Thayer exclaimed, “I have found a model!”

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Bessie Price posing for Abbott Handerson Thayer's painting Stevenson memorial

Bessie Price posing for Abbott Handerson Thayer's painting Stevenson memorial, not after 1903

Price described the experience of posing for Thayer: “He started about eight–thirty or nine o’clock and stopped at one. In a sitting pose he allowed his model to rest every half hour . . . and at eleven o’clock stopped for a half hour for a longer rest and for a glass of milk for his model and himself.” Thayer paid his household staff a fee for posing in addition to their regular wages, plus a commission if the picture sold. In this reference photograph, Price poses for Thayer’s 1903 painting, Stevenson Memorial.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Mary Thayer diary

Mary Thayer diary, 1888 May 18 through Dec. 24

Creator: Mary Thayer

The children of painter Abbott Thayer (1849–1921)—Mary, Gerald, and Gladys—were their father’s favorite models. Mary posed for Angel in a New Hampshire barn, standing in front of a pair of wings that Thayer had nailed to a beam. Mary Thayer’s diary chronicles her family’s life in Dublin, New Hampshire, and records the arrival of visitors, including models Elise Pumpelly and Clara May. She frequently noted, “I posed for my Papa.”

Learn More


Artists and Their Models

Detail of Jose de Creeft's sculpture Alice in Wonderland in Central Park

Detail of Jose de Creeft's sculpture Alice in Wonderland in Central Park, 1959?

Sculptor José de Creeft (1884–1982) created the Alice in Wonderland statue in New York’s Central Park. The model was de Creeft’s daughter, Donna Maria.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

José de Creeft diary

José de Creeft diary, 1954 - 1957

Creator: José De Creeft

De Creeft’s papers reveal tensions over his interpretation. The project’s patron and New York City’s Department of Parks expressed concern that Alice looked too old. De Creeft wrote in his diary that he had based his first maquette on a drawing by another artist, but it wasn’t to his liking. Feeling that it would be a “disaster to continue” without making the work his own, he turned to Donna Maria.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

José de Creeft and his daughter Donna Maria posing with a model of his sculpture Alice in Wonderland

José de Creeft and his daughter Donna Maria posing with a model of his sculpture Alice in Wonderland, 1957 July

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Lorrie Goulet, Donna Maria de Creeft, and José de Creeft at the inauguration of his sculpture Alice in Wonderland in Central Park

Lorrie Goulet, Donna Maria de Creeft, and José de Creeft at the inauguration of his sculpture Alice in Wonderland in Central Park, 1959 May 7

Learn More


Artists and Their Models

William and Marguerite Zorach with their children Tessim and Dahlov, and Bertram Hartman in Robinhood Cove, Maine

William and Marguerite Zorach with their children Tessim and Dahlov, and Bertram Hartman in Robinhood Cove, Maine, 1929

The Zorachs were a family dedicated to art: sculptor William Zorach (1889–1966); his wife, painter and textile artist Marguerite (1887–1968); and their children Tessim (1915–1995), an art dealer, and Dahlov (b. 1917), a painter. The Zorach children frequently posed for their parents. Tessim later recalled: “My family came to Provincetown to work—not to relax and certainly not to play. [My parents] did not . . . frolic with the many artists and writers who danced and drank the whole night through. They had to wake up early in the morning ready to paint and carve.”

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Reproduction of Marguerite Zorach's painting Child with cat

Reproduction of Marguerite Zorach's painting Child with cat, not after 1928

As a child, Dahlov Ipcar frequently served as a model for both of here parents. Here she is painted by her mother, Marguerite Zorach, in Child with Cat.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Standing figure by William Zorach

Standing figure by William Zorach, 193-?

Creator: Carl Klein Studios (New York, N.Y.)

Dahlov Ipcar was the model for Standing Figure, by her father William Zorach.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Marjorie Martinet painting a horse

Marjorie Martinet painting a horse, circa 1910

Learn More


Artists and Their Models

Eleanor Dickinson memorandum to Flo Allen

Eleanor Dickinson memorandum to Flo Allen, 1974 Oct. 21

Creator: Eleanor Creekmore Dickinson

Live animal models also play a role in the education of art students. However, as we see from this memo from Eleanor Dickinson (born 1931), requesting models for her drawing class, they were not paid as well as human models.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Eleanor Dickinson's studio rabbit

Eleanor Dickinson's studio rabbit, 1975

Eleanor Dickinson, who incorporated animals into her life drawing classes, kept a studio rabbit and pet named Pooka, named for the shape shifting animal spirit of Welsh mythology.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Elizabeth Sher postcard to Eleanor Creekmore Dickinson

Elizabeth Sher postcard to Eleanor Creekmore Dickinson, 1980 Oct. 30

Creator: Elizabeth Sher

Eleanor Dickinson’s rabbit, Pooka, accompanied her when she taught Elizabeth Sher’s animal drawing class for children, who, Sher writes, “are only 6 but they care a lot.”

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

The story of my portrait

The story of my portrait, 1944 July 17

Creator: Nan Wood Graham

Nan Wood Graham (1881–1970) is best known for modeling for her brother Grant’s iconic American Gothic. She also sat for a portrait with a baby chick. In “The Story of My Portrait,” Nan recounts a distressing event: one evening, Grant put the chick, which would stay up late with him while he worked, in a crock and covered it with a book to quiet her squawking. He promptly forgot about it, until their mother discovered it the next morning, passed out in the crock. They managed to revive the chick, but Nan notes, “Grant didn’t have her do much posing that day.”

Learn More


Artists and Their Models

Cornelia Chapin's membership card for the Parc Zoologique du Bois de Vincennes in Paris

Cornelia Chapin's membership card for the Parc Zoologique du Bois de Vincennes in Paris, 1936

Cornelia Van Auken Chapin (1893–1972) specialized in animal sculptures, using a method known as direct–carving from life. She learned this technique from Mateo Hernandez, with whom she studied in Paris.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Cornelia Chapin working on a sculpture of a pelican in Paris

Cornelia Chapin working on a sculpture of a pelican in Paris, circa 1936

Chapin often worked at zoological parks in Paris, moving her materials and tools by cart to carve from her observations of living animals.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Katharine Lane Weems and her sculpture Dolphins of the sea

Katharine Lane Weems and her sculpture Dolphins of the sea, 1977?

Katherine Lane Weems with her sculpture, Dolphins of the Sea, which was created for the New England Aquarium in Boston, Massachusetts.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Katharine Lane Weems letter to Nedo Cassettari

Katharine Lane Weems letter to Nedo Cassettari, 1974 Dec. 29

Creator: Katharine Ward Lane Weems

In the process of sculpting Dolphins of the Sea for the New England Aquarium in Boston, Katharine Lane Weems (1899–1989) asked artist Nedo Cassettari to go to the aquarium and make a cast of a dolphin’s head: “It is so difficult to study the anatomy of the head of a dolphin because of the speed at which they move and disappear under the water.”

Learn More


Artists and Their Models

Katharine Lane Weems modeling a dolphin in clay at the Atlantic Aquarium

Katharine Lane Weems modeling a dolphin in clay at the Atlantic Aquarium, circa 1970

The Dolphins of the Sea project for the New England Aquarium lasted ten years. Weems’s files reveal a broad range of source material: from schematic drawings and photographs from the U.S. Navy to picture postcards and greeting cards. Weems also spent time at an aquarium, modeling dolphins from life.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Valerie Harrisse Walter essay A gorilla

Valerie Harrisse Walter essay A gorilla, 1924

Creator: Valerie Harrisse Walter

In the spring of 1924, a gorilla named John Daniel II arrived in New York City for a tour with Ringling Brothers Circus. Newspaper accounts reveal a young ape with a precocious personality and a preference for the company of women (he was fond of perfume).


Sculptor Valerie Harrisse Walter (1892–1984) visited John Daniel II and his owner in a hotel suite in New York, where she made these sketches. In her essay “A Gorilla,” Walter wrote: “What a model! . . . John was not a subject whose habits were regular, whose temperament was even and reliable, or whose actions could be counted on in any way.”

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Study sketches of John Daniel II

Study sketches of John Daniel II, 1924

Creator: Valerie Harrisse Walter

Valerie Harrisse Walter made these sketches of John Daniel II when she met him in a New York City hotel suite in 1924.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Valerie Harrisse Walter's sculpture John Daniel II

Valerie Harrisse Walter's sculpture John Daniel II, 1927?

Creator: Valerie Harrisse Walter

Learn More


Artists and Their Models

Mary Fairchild MacMonnies memoirs

Mary Fairchild MacMonnies memoirs, 1938?

Creator: Mary Fairchild MacMonnies

The 1893 Bal des Quat’z’Arts (Ball of the Four Arts)—a costume ball for art students in Paris—was scandalous. Artist Mary Fairchild MacMonnies Low (1858–1946) describes the scene: “A long file of warriors, priests, slaves . . . preceded a gorgeous litter . . . on which reclined the lovely form of Cleopatra Queen of Egypt, personified by the most beautiful model in Paris, ‘Sarah Brown’ . . . clad only in jewels . . .”


Sarah Brown’s arrest for public nudity sparked a week of student riots. The last work for which she posed was Venus and Adonis, sculpted by Mary’s husband, Frederick MacMonnies. Brown died of tuberculosis in 1896.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Arts monthly pictorial

Arts monthly pictorial, 1925 July

Creator: Edwin Bower Hesser

Born to a theatrical family in New York, Edwin Bower Hesser worked as a theater manager, studied art, and served in the Army before setting up a photography studio in Los Angeles. In addition to photographing Hollywood stars, Hesser was known for his nude and semi–nude studies of women, which he often featured in his self–published magazines.


In True Tales of the Arts, he claimed to balance high art and popular culture. Photographs of movie actors and racy revues were intermixed with reproductions of paintings by Rubens, Gérôme, and van Dyck.

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Frank P. Leslie letter to Philip Leslie Hale

Frank P. Leslie letter to Philip Leslie Hale, 191-?

Creator: Frank P. Leslie

Painter Philip Leslie Hale (1865–1931) taught life drawing and anatomy classes at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. His correspondence files are full of letters relating to his models. One letter stands out. After catching his wife leaving a “resort on Avery Street” with another man, a desperate husband wrote to Hale pleading with him to stop hiring his wife as a model: “I am writing this to you to appeal to you to help a sorrowful husband to stop the down–ward path of an erring wife.”

Learn More

Artists and Their Models

Jonas Lie, New York, N.Y. letter to Clifton A. Woodrum, Washington, D.C.

Jonas Lie, New York, N.Y. letter to Clifton A. Woodrum, Washington, D.C., 1939 July

Creator: Jonas Lie

In 1939 artists of the Works Progress Administration were denounced in Congress for hiring nude models—thus misusing government funds and “debasing womanhood.” As evidence, a WPA file of reference photographs of models was confiscated.


Artists and arts organizations angrily protested. Painter Jonas Lie, president of the National Academy of Design, wrote to Congressman Woodrum: “I am astonished that in this enlightened age, there are still those who can sense only the sordid and ugly, where the healthy wholesome mind will sense the ennobling power of the beautiful.” Lie demanded that Woodrum apologize to the models for the “violation of their confidential records.”

Learn More


Artists and Their Models

G. Alan Chidsey scrapbook of cartoons about art and artists' models

G. Alan Chidsey scrapbook of cartoons about art and artists' models, between 1940 and 1969?

Creator: G. Alan Chidsey

G. Alan Chidsey was a lawyer, book dealer, and designer. His papers at the Archives of American Art mainly concern legal work for artist Marsden Hartley’s estate, but they also include three scrapbooks of cartoons about artists and models. Cut from popular magazines, the cartoons mock modern art (Picasso was a favorite target), use art for sight gags, and find bawdy humor in nude modeling.

Learn More