Jo Davidson was born on March 30, 1883 to a family of Russian immigrants in New York. Growing up he took art classes at the Educational Alliance’s art school and the Art Students’ League. Although he entered college at Yale University intending to pursue medicine, he ended up discovering his affinity for sculpture. Davidson left Yale and returned to New York City and then moved to Paris to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1907. While in Paris he saw Ida Rubinstein dance as Cleopatra in 1909, the inspiration for his piece in this exhibit.
Later that year, Davidson returned to New York and was given his first solo gallery show. After befriending Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, future founder of the Whitney Museum of American Art, Davidson’s career quickly escalated. From 1916 to 1951 Davidson sculpted busts for many famous military and political leaders, including Woodrow Wilson (1916), Herbert Hoover (1921), Dwight D. Eisenhower (1948), and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933 and 1951). Davidson was famous for not having his subjects pose for him; instead he would talk to and attempt to get to know them, in order to represent who they are as a person. Davidson emphasized naturalism when creating his sculptures, aiming to create lively representations of his subjects. Davidson worked up until is death on January 2nd, 1952.