Antonio Salemme

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Antonio Salemme
BornNovember 2, 1892
DiedMay 2, 1995(1995-05-02) (aged 102)
OccupationAmerican sculptor and painter

Antonio Salemme (November 2, 1892 − May 2, 1995) was an Italian-born American sculptor and painter best known for his sculpted portraits (including; John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Albert Einstein, Paul Robeson, Ethel Waters) and classical nudes. After studying in Boston and Rome before World War I, and serving in the Italian army during that conflict, Salemme settled in New York and became a prominent figure in the Greenwich Village cultural scene of the 1920s and 30s. Three of his sculpted portraits (of Robeson, Waters, and Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson) are in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery. His Kennedy portrait is at the John F. Kennedy Library. Salemme's life-size nude of Paul Robeson entitled "Negro Spiritual" (1926) was exhibited to acclaim in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Paris, and became a cause celebré when it was banned from an exhibition in Philadelphia in 1930. Salemme was the recipient of two Guggenheim Fellowships (1932 and 1936). In the 1940s he became increasingly interested in painting, which he had studied as a teen-ager. Salemme's Annual summer visits to Rockport, Massachusetts, resulted in numerous post-Impressionist-inspired sea- and landscapes. After a 43-year career in New York, Salemme and his wife Martha moved to rural eastern Pennsylvania in 1962. Working from memory and imagination, and inspired by Hindu philosophy and his devoted practice of Zen Buddhist meditation, Salemme continued to evolve artistically over the next 30 years, painting and sculpting prolifically almost until his death at age 102. In 2013 an Italian historical society published a selection of Salemme's letters and photographs from his military service in World War I. The artist's work was the subject of a retrospective exhibition at the Sigal Museum in Easton, Pennsylvania, in 2014.[1][2][3]


Salemme was born on November 2, 1892, in Gaeta, Italy.

In 1904 following the death of his mother he emigrated to Boston with his father. He began to undertake the study of art at the age of 14 and then a benefactor enabled him to study sculpture in Rome in 1912. He came back to the United States after the first world war and established a studio in the New York City borough of Manhattan's Greenwich Village.

In 1924 he attended a performance of The Emperor Jones starring Paul Robeson and subsequently asked the actor to model for him. The finished work, "Negro Spiritual" was displayed at the Brooklyn Museum as well as other fine art institutions. The sculpture later voyaged to a foundry in France to be cast in bronze, but was then lost during World War Two.

In the nineteen thirties the artist worked as a director in the Works Progress Administration and throughout his career did many portrait commissions. In the 1980s he and his wife Martha set up the Antonio Salemme Foundation in Allentown, Pennsylvania, as an initial step towards the founding of a museum to permanently house the artist's work.[4]

Salemme died on May 2, 1995, in Williams Township, Northampton County, Pennsylvania. at the age of 102[5]


  1. ^ "Antonio Salemme, 102, Painter And Sculptor of Robeson Nude -". Retrieved 2015-09-20.
  2. ^ Soria, Regina (1993). American Artists of Italian Heritage, 1776-1945. Cranbury, New Jersey: Associated University Presses. pp. 158–161. ISBN 0-8386-3425-7.
  3. ^ Skrapits, Joseph (March–April 2014). "A Passion for Portraits". Fine Art Connoisseur: 46–52.
  4. ^ "Antonio Salemme Foundation". Archived from the original on 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2015-09-20.
  5. ^ Skrapits, Joseph (November 1985). "Exile's Return". Philadelphia Magazine. 76 (11): 143–154.

External links[edit]

  • Antonio Salemme Foundation - [1]