In a niche is a Houdon bust of Lafayette, a replica of the original presented to the city of Paris by the state of Virginia.
JEAN ANTOINE HOUDON (1740-1828), French sculptor, was born at Versailles on the 18th of March 1740.
Peopled the gardens of Versailles rather than by the lessons of his masters, delighted Pope Clement XIV., who, on seeing the St Bruno executed by Houdon for the church of St Maria degli Angeli, said "he would speak, were it not that the rules of his order impose silence."
In Italy Houdon had lived in the presence of that second Renaissance with which the name of Winckelmann is associated, and the direct and simple treatment of the Morpheus which he sent to the Salon of 1771 bore witness to its influence.
Between these dates Houdon had not been idle; busts of Catharine II., Diderot and Prince Galitzin were remarked at the Salon of 1773, and at that of 1775 he produced, not only his Morpheus in marble, but busts of Turgot, Gluck (in which the marks of small-pox in the face were reproduced with striking effect) and Sophie Arnould as Iphigeneia (now in the Wallace Collection, London), together with his well-known marble relief, "Grive suspendue par les pattes."
To every Salon Houdon was a chief contributor; most of the leading men of the day were his sitters; his busts of d'Alembert, Prince Henry of Prussia, Gerbier, Buffon (for Catharine of Russia) and Mirabeau are remarkable portraits; and in 1778, when the news of Rousseau's death reached him, Houdon started at once for Ermenonville, and there took a cast of the dead man's face, from which he produced the grand and life-like head now in the Louvre.
In 1779 his bust of Moliere, at the Theatre Frangais, won universal praise, and the celebrated draped statue of Voltaire, in the vestibule of the same theatre, was exhibited at the Salon of 1781, to which Houdon also sent a statue of Marshal de Tourville, commissioned by the king, and the Diana executed for Catharine II.
This work was refused; the jury alleged that a statue of Diana demanded drapery; without drapery, they said, the goddess became a "suivante de Venus," and not even the proud and frank chastity of the attitude and expression could save the Diana of Houdon (a bronze reproduction of which is in the Louvre) from insult.
With Franklin, whose bust he had recently executed, Houdon left France in 1785, and, staying some time with Washington at Mount Vernon, he modelled the bust, with which he decided to go back to Paris, there to complete the statue destined for the capitol of the State of Virginia.
After his return to his native country Houdon executed for the king of Prussia, as a companion to a statue of Summer, La Frileuse, a naif embodiment of shivering cold, which is one of his best as well as one of his best-known works.
The Revolution interrupted the busy flow of commissions, and Houdon took up a half-forgotten project for a statue of St Scholastica.
Under Napoleon, of whom in 1806 he made a nude statue now at Dijon, Houdon received little employment; he was, however, commissioned to execute the colossal reliefs intended for the decoration of the column of the "Grand Army" at Boulogne (which ultimately found a different destination); he also produced a statue of Cicero for the senate, and various busts, amongst which may be cited those of Marshal Ney, of Josephine and of Napoleon himself, by whom Houdon was rewarded with the legion of honour.
(1855-1856); Hermann Dierks, Houdons Leben and Werke (Gotha, 1887); Albert Terrade, Autour de la statue de Jean Houdon (Versailles, 1892); P. E.
Houdon (Paris, 1896).