A Young Mother

Artist: Bessie Potter Vonnoh (American, St. Louis, Missouri 1872–1955 New York)

Date: 1896, cast ca. 1906

Medium: Bronze

Dimensions: 14 x 12 1/2 x 15 1/2 in. (35.6 x 31.8 x 39.4 cm)

Classification: Sculpture

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1906

Accession Number: 06.306


In 1896 Vonnoh modeled her first treatment of the mother-and-child theme, "A Young Mother." With the instant popular success of this piece Vonnoh's name became synonymous with sculptural representations of motherhood in which psychological mood takes precedence over physical description. The statuette captures a precious moment between a new mother and her baby, as the woman fondly cradles the child. The intense love she feels is expressed though her enveloping embrace of the baby and her tender gaze downward. The artist sacrificed physical detail for feeling: the faces of the mother and child are both indistinct-in the Metropolitan's cast the baby's eyes are but faint indentations on the surface. The blanket draped over the sides and back of the chair melds into the mother's skirt and further into the baby's dress. Only after the emotional bonds are perceived does one notice other charming aspects: the open neck of the mother's gown and her foot resting on a stool each enhance the naturalism of the composition. While many earlier sculptors focused on the religious or mythological associations of motherhood, Vonnoh found that everyday life had potential for meaningful expression. The work of the French Beaux-Arts sculptor Jules Dalou provided a model for Vonnoh, particularly his widely known compositions such as "Maternal Joy" and "Seated Woman Reading" that were cast as porcelain statuettes by Sèvres.