Jean-Antoine Houdon


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(b Versailles, 25 Mar. 1741; d Paris, 15 July 1828).

French sculptor. A pupil of Michel-Ange Slodtz, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, and Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, he won the Prix de Rome in 1761. During his stay in Rome, 1764–8, he produced two works that made his reputation: a male écorché figure (1767, Schlossmuseum, Gotha), casts of which were widely used in art academies, and St Bruno (1767, S. Maria degli Angeli), executed in a direct and unpretentious classical style. After returning to Paris in 1768, he was successful in the popular mythological idiom, becoming a member of the Academy in 1777 with his Morpheus (Louvre, Paris). His greatest strength, however, was with portraits, in which he showed a brilliant gift for catching lively gesture and expression. By the mid-1780s he was acknowledged as the leading portrait sculptor of Europe and in 1785 he visited America to make preparations for a statue of George Washington (marble original, 1788, in Virginia State Capitol, Richmond; bronze copy outside the NG, London). His other well-known works include several portraits of Voltaire (e.g. in the Comédie-Française, Paris, and V&A, London). During the French Revolution he narrowly escaped imprisonment and although he found favour again under Napoleon (a terracotta bust of him, 1806, is in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon), he produced little of importance after the turn of the century. He last exhibited in 1814 and in his final years his mind was impaired following a stroke.

Subjects: Art.

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