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Jean-Antoine Houdon (March 20, 1741 – July 15, 1828) was a French
neoclassical sculptor. Houdon is famous for his portrait busts and
statues of philosophers, inventors and political figures of the
Enlightenment. Houdon's subjects include Denis Diderot (1771),
Benjamin Franklin (1778-09), Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1778), Voltaire
(1781), Molière (1781), George Washington (1785-88), Thomas
Jefferson (1789), Louis XVI (1790), Robert Fulton, 1803-04, and
Napoléon Bonaparte (1806).
Born in Versailles,
Houdon won the Prix de Rome in 1761 but was not greatly influenced
by ancient and Renaissance art in Rome. His stay in the city is
marked by two characteristic and important productions: the superb
Ecorché (1767), an anatomical model which has served as a guide to
all artists since his day, and the statue of Saint Bruno in the
church of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri in Rome. After ten
years stay in Italy, Houdon returned to Paris.
sculpture of Washington was the result of a specific invitation by
Benjamin Franklin to cross the Atlantic specifically to visit Mount
Vernon, so that Washington could model for him. Washington sat for
wet clay life models and a plaster life mask in 1785. These models
served for many commissions of Washington, including the standing
figure commissioned by the Legislature of Virginia, and located in
the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond. Numerous variations of the
Washington bust were produced, portraying him variously as a general
in uniform, in the classical manner showing chest musculature, and
as Roman Consul Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus clad in a toga. A cast
of the latter is located in the Vermont State House.
Houdon became a
member of the Académie de peinture et de sculpture in 1771, and a
professor in 1778. Perceived as bourgeois for his connections to the
court of Louis XVI, he fell out of favor during the French
Revolution, although he escaped imprisonment. Houdon returned to
favor during the French Consulate and Empire.
Houdon died in
Paris and was interred at the Cimetière du Montparnasse.
He was a member of
the masonic lodge Les Neuf Sœurs.