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Prominent in France during the Enlightenment period of the late 18th
and early 19th centuries, Jean-Antoine Houdon was a neo-classical
sculptor, especially noted for his marble portrait busts and
statues. His subjects included Americans Benjamin Franklin,
George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Robert Fulton, and among his
French subjects were Denis Diderot, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Louis XVI
and Napoléon Bonaparte. For King Louis, he did numerous statues for
the gardens of Versailles. Houdon was a continuous exhibitor at the
French Salon, and works included many of the above mentioned personages
as well as Prince Henry of Prussia, Catharine of Russia, Voltaire, the playwright
Moliere and Marshal de Tourville.
Houdon was born in Versailles in 1714. His artistic talent was
apparent from the time he was young, and at age 12, he enrolled in the
Ecole Royale de Sculpture where he was a student of sculptor Michel
Ange Slodtz (1705-1764). In 1761, at the age of 20, Houdon
received a Prix de
Rome, which was a scholarship sponsored and paid for by the King of
France for art students to study at The Academy of France in
Rome. He stayed in Italy for ten years, and there much delighted
Pope Clement XIV and many other people with his statue of St. Bruno,
which Houdon did for the church of St. Maria degli Angeli.
Although receiving the Prix de Rome brought him public recognition and
the duration provided some excellent
exposure to Italian art, scholars indicate that he was not particularly
influenced by either the Renaissance or Classical works. However,
tangible evidence of some of that influence was the sculpture he titled
Morpheus that he sent to the French Salon in 1771.
That same year, because of the skill he had shown with Morpheus,
and with entries two years earlier that were busts of Catharine II,
Diderot and Prince Galitzin, Houdon was elected to the Académie des
Beaux-Arts (painting and sculpture), one of the
five academies of the Institute de France, a society of learned
persons who set aesthetic standards. In 1778, he became a Professor at the Académie and has
been described as being a very active teacher.
During the French Revolution, he was censored as a 'bourgeois' because
of his association with Louis XVI, but he was not imprisoned.
Under the French Consulate, the government between 1799 and 1804, and
the French Empire, 1804-1814, when Napoléon took over, Houdon regained
his former stature. He executed architectural reliefs, did a
statue of Cicero for the Senate, did portrait busts of Napoleon and his
wife Josephine, and received the Legion of Honour.
In 1785, at the invitation of Benjamin Franklin, America's Minister to
France, Houdon traveled with Franklin to America to Virginia, where he visited Mount
Vernon to model George Washington, who four years later would be
elected President of the United States. From sittings, Houdon
made wet-clay life models and a plaster life mask, which later were
used, not only by Houdon in Paris for his portrait bust of Washington but for
many sculpture works of Washington. Among these Washington subjects are the standing
figure statue in the state capitol building in Richmond commissioned by
the Virginia General Assembly; many variations of a portrait busts, and
a statue in the Vermont State House depicting him in a toga as the
Roman Consul Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus.
Jean-Antoine Houdon died in Paris July 16, 1828, and is buried in the Montparnasse Cemetery.
From November 4, 2003 to January 25, 2004, an exhibition of Houdon's
sculpture was held at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Antoine_Houdon (Credit: Ann L. Poulet, Jean -Antoine Houdon: Sculptor of the Enlightenment, U. of Chicago Press, 2003
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