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  Senate Vice Presidential Bust Collection

 Henry A. Wallace
(1947) by Jo Davidson
 Henry A. Wallace 

In 1944 Henry Wallace personally selected renowned sculptor Jo Davidson to create his bust for the Senate’s Vice Presidential Bust Collection. The sittings for the bust began at Davidson’s New Jersey studio. The artist noted in his memoirs that Wallace was patient as a sitter, but would sometimes disappear—only to be found later, digging in Davidson’s garden. From work on an earlier bust of the vice president, Davidson had already formed a strong impression of the man: “Wallace was shy, almost gauche. At first, he did not give of himself easily. But he looked up at me from time to time. He gave you the feeling of wide open spaces, a clean beauty, and of strong healthy optimism. He didn’t seem to waste his energies in useless words or gestures. As I worked, we got closer and more friendly. The clay seemed to model itself, and I completed the bust in two sittings.” [1]

Initially, the sculptor was very enthusiastic about the Senate's bust of Wallace. In October 1945 he wrote, “The bust . . . promises to be, on its completion, one of my very best.” But later progress was slow. Although pressed by other work and able to obtain little of Wallace’s time, Davidson insisted on completing the marble version from life. In answer to queries from the architect of the Capitol, the sculptor dashed off a note from New York City in May 1947. In it he wrote, “Artists are funny people but we are fussy and that being my chief vice and having had to sail for France I took the marble with me to finish it there since I could not finish it here.” Seven months later the completed bust was finally delivered to the Capitol and placed on display in the Senate wing.

Davidson was one of the best-known American portrait sculptors of the first half of the 20th century. He was born in New York City and studied art there and in Paris. He swiftly gained a reputation for his ebullient personal style and adventurous thinking—for example, he helped to organize the controversial Armory Show (the first large scale exhibition of modern art in America) in New York in 1913. Throughout a career that spanned five decades, Davidson modeled many world leaders and literary luminaries. Although he moved in avant-garde circles, Davidson remained traditional in his artistic style. Passionate about portraiture, he often took the unusual step of searching out subjects rather than waiting for leading figures to commission him.

The artist also completed a bust of Charles Dawes for the Senate’s Vice Presidential Bust Collection.

1. Jo Davidson, Between Sittings: An Informal Autobiography (New York: Dial, 1951), 336.

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