Scientist of the Day - Jean-Antoine Houdon
Jean-Antoine Houdon, a French sculptor, died July 15, 1828, at age 87. Houdon’s busts of famous Americans of the early Republic are about as famous as any works of art of this period. He did a portrait of Thomas Jefferson in 1789; a copy can be seen in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (see third image above). His bust of Robert Fulton is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA) in New York City (fourth image). The only requirements for a sitter were that you had to pay a ton of money, and you had to visit Paris, since Houdon did not travel. The second image above is a painting of Houdon at work in his studio. Perhaps his most familiar sculpture is the bust he did of Benjamin Franklin in 1778 (first image); a version stands in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Houdon was not an American monopoly; he also did portraits of famous Frenchman, including Denis Diderot, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Napoleon Bonaparte, and the aged Voltaire. The MMA has two versions of the Voltaire bust, one that is painted and wears a wig (fifth image), and another that shows Voltaire sans hair (sixth image). The latter is preferred by most, since it seems to capture the sardonic wit of Voltaire so well, just a few months before he died in 1778.
Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City. Comments or corrections are welcome; please direct to email@example.com.