The Washington Post

The Gate: The model as the muse

A current show by Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art considers the work of the model in helping create art. And standing still could be very hard work. ¶ “I had perspiration dripping off me,” writes Cleo Dorman, seen in the show posing for a class at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1942, describing her first modeling job. “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.” ¶ Artists had to keep rosters of models, use their own children to pose, or procure unusual animals they’d want to paint or sculpt. ¶ Letters, photos, sketches and artists’ calling cards are part of the exhibit “Artists and Their Models,” through which visitors, unlike models, can move about freely.


Hourly rate, in cents, charged by Cleo Dorman, a model at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, in October 1937.


Suggested fee for a baby model used in life drawing class, compared to that for an adult, by artist Eleanor Dickinson for a class at the California College of Arts and Crafts.


Models of note whose numbers were kept in the notebooks of Reginald Marsh and Richard McDermott Miller, respectively: actress Maureen Stapleton and dancer Meredith Monk (listed as “Merry”).


Number of animals mentioned as models in the exhibit, including horse, cow, rabbit, parrot, iguana, bear, dolphin, chick and gorilla.


Years that passed between Grant Wood using his sister Nan as the model in his iconic 1930 painting, “American Gothic,” and as subject of her own, slightly more glamorous “Portrait of Nan.”


The year Bessie Price, at age 16, left Ireland for America to join her family who were household employees of painter Abbott Handerson Thayer. With added angel wings, she became the model for his 1903 painting “Stevenson Memorial.”


Dedication of the Alice in Wonderland sculpture in New York’s Central Park for which sculptor Jose de Creeft used his daughter Donna Maria de Creeft as a model.


Date that Esquire magazine published its first Varga Girl, the leggy pinup illustration by Alberto Vargas, whose model was most often his wife, Anna Mae Clift.


Number of sculptors mentioned in the exhibit who employed self-promoting bodybuilder Tony Sansone as a model — Arthur Lee, Chester Beach, James Earle Fraser and Malvina Hoffman.


Age at which Alice Prin began modeling nude, causing her mother to kick her out of the house. Later, as Kiki de Montparnasse, she had her greatest collaborations with the artist Man Ray, who made her his “Violon d’Ingres” in a famous 1924 image.


Price for a life drawing class for men, as listed in the Art Students League of New York’s 1928 summer school brochure. There were life drawing classes for women, too, conducted separately.


Number of different suggested poses for action sketches using models, from a student’s notes in a 1929 class taught by Philip Leslie Hale, with “Going Upstairs” at No. 1, bowling at No. 7 and “Tying shoestring” at No. 10.


Number of hours the painter Worthington Whittredge had to stand in full uniform, posing for Emanuel Leutze’s 1851 “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” reporting he was “nearly dead when the operation was over.”


Year that Florence Wysinger Allen began the San Francisco Models Guild, 12 years after she began her own modeling career, working with artists that included Mark Rothko, Diego Rivera and Wayne Thiebaud.


Cartoons about artists and models from the 1940s to 1960s, shown from the scrapbooks of G. Alan Chidsey, including work from Charles Addams, George Price and Chon Day.


Date of the oldest exhibit in the show, a photograph of artists dissecting a cadaver at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.


Date of the newest item in the exhibit, a model’s card from Anna-Lisa van der Valk, adorned with a lipstick kiss.


Total number of objects in the show, including 39 photographs, seven letters and six sketches.

Artists and Their Models Continues through Aug. 27 in the Lawrence A. Fleischman gallery at the Smithsonian’s Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture, Eighth and F streets NW. Call 202-633-7940 or visit



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