Jean Antoine Houdon

Houdon, Jean Antoine


Born Mar 20, 1741, in Versailles; died July 15, 1828, in Paris. French sculptor. One of Europe’s greatest masters of portraiture.

In his youth, Houdon was advised by J. B. Pigalle. A pensioner at the French Academy in Rome from 1764 to 1768, he began to take a great interest in classical art and anatomy (the anatomical study L’Écorché, plaster, 1767, School of Fine Arts, Paris). Diana (plaster, 1776, Gotha Fortress Museum, German Democratic Republic), a fine example of elegant forms conforming to the strict laws of classicism, brought Houdon his fame. In his later years, Houdon sculpted a portrait collection of prominent spokesmen of the Age of Enlightenment and the French Revolution, exemplifying their public concerns and uncommon qualities. This collection includes J.-J. Rousseau (plaster, 1778, Art Museum in Schwerin), B. Franklin (1778), and Mirabeau (1791; both terracotta, Louvre, Paris), and a bust (1778) and statue (1781) of Voltaire (marble, Hermitage, Leningrad).

Houdon’s portraits are characterized by keen psychological insight into the personality and the figure’s openness to the viewer, emphasized by the portrait’s gaze. Characteristic of Houdon’s tombs is a lucid elegiac quality (the tombstone for A. D. Golitsyn, marble, 1774, at the A. V. Shchusev Scientific Research Museum of Architecture). His more personal interpretations of children and women excel in their natural simplicity (for example, Wife’s Portrait, plaster, 1787, Louvre). Houdon’s sculptures express vivacity through detailed facial modeling and are characterized by a fine, generalized silhouette. In the mid-1790’s, Houdon’s creative output began to decline. He taught at the School of Fine Arts in Paris during 1805–23.


Giacometti, G. La Vie et l’oeuvre de Houdon, vols. 1–2. Paris, 1959. Réau, L. Houdon, vols. 1–2. Paris, 1965.