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Claude Michel, called Clodion (1738–1814)
The Cupid Seller (La marchande d’amours), c. 1765–70
Terracotta
8 3/4 x 10 7/8 in. (22.2 x 27.6 cm)
Anonymous Loan

Grasping the wings of an eagerly gesturing cupid, a seated vendor proffers love to a buyer flanked by an attendant. Clodion’s highly classicized composition, created during his formative years at the French Academy in Rome, presents a charming interpretation of a renowned ancient wall painting discovered near Pompeii and known through prints. Raised modeling emphasizes the female figures’ profiles and drapery, and delicate incising captures the illusion of their gracefully contoured limbs receding into space.

Claude Michel, called Clodion (1738–1814)
The Cupid Seller (La marchande d’amours), c. 1765–70
Marble
10 7/8 x 11 3/4 in. (27.6 x 29.8 cm)
Private Collection

Clodion uses the purity and permanence of marble to portray with calm dignity this playful scene of the vending of love. The relief underscores the appeal of the Cupid Seller subject in the late eighteenth century since it may be a commission after the earlier terracotta by Clodion at left. Celebrated for his mastery of modeling in clay, the artist here demonstrates his equally refined technique in marble, as seen in his sensitive articulation of the folds of the female figures’ garments and of the minute feathers of the cupids’ wings.

Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828)
Vestal, c. 1767–68
Terracotta
23 7/8 in. (60.6 cm)
Private Collection

On view April–September 2014

A life-size marble statue in Rome served as the inspiration for this terracotta, which exemplifies the impact of classical antiquity on Houdon’s early work in Italy. He depicts a priestess of Vesta, the Roman goddess of the hearth whose followers (called vestals) adopted vows of chastity and guarded a perpetual flame in her temple. Featuring the blank eyes and serene expression of a classical sculpture, Houdon’s figure holds an urn of the sacred fire with draped hands that attest to her modesty. A student of anatomy who observed nature as closely as he observed the antique, Houdon activates his figure through the slight sway of her stance, the gentle turn of her head, and the grace of her form emerging beneath the pleats of her garment.

Claude Michel, called Clodion (1738–1814)
Three Graces, early 1770s
Terracotta
20 1/2 in. (52.1 cm)
Private Collection

This early work intended to support a marble basin exemplifies Clodion’s imaginative approach to the Greek and Roman precedents he studied in Italy. He interprets the Three Graces — guardians of life’s pleasures — as caryatids (female figures serving as architectural pillars). The artist embellishes upon the traditional single-figure caryatid by encircling the Graces, who link hands in accordance with custom, around a central column. Subtle variations in the figures’ poses, coiffures, and classical costumes enliven the rhythm of the composition, lending it a contemporary, naturalistic spirit.

Claude Michel, called Clodion (1738–1814)
Pair of Vases with Bacchic Subjects, c. 1770–75
Terracotta
10 5/8 in. (27 cm)
Private Collection

On view April–September 2014

Clodion evokes the visual language of classical triumphal processions in these relief vases modeled during or shortly after his time in Italy. Reclining in mirroring poses on chariots pulled by teams of putti are Silenus, the drunken companion of Bacchus, and a female Satyr, whose furry legs identify her as half goat. The small-scale works emulate the form of the monumental marble Medici Vase, an esteemed antiquity in Rome. Clodion’s depictions of Bacchic revelry in warm-hued terracotta invigorate the classical vase format and subject for the delight of learned eighteenth-century audiences.

Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828)
Madame His, 1775
Marble
31 1/2 x 17 x 12 1/2 in. (80 x 43.2 x 31.8 cm)
The Frick Collection, New York; Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Victor Thaw, 2007

This portrait bust of Marie Anne de Vastre, wife of German banker Pierre-François His, highlights Houdon’s gift for rendering lifelike features and textures in marble. The tumbling curls of Madame His’s coiffure echo the undulations of her mantle and inwardly folding chemise, while her upright bearing, alert gaze, and parted lips — animated to suggest that she is on the verge of speaking — highlight her intelligence. By uniting close observation from life with the classical bust format, Houdon endows his subject with the superior rationality that Enlightenment audiences admired in ancient sculpture.

Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828)
Young Lise in the Guise of Innocence, 1775
Marble
18 1/8 in. (46 cm) 
Private Collection

On view April–June 2014

According to popular anecdote, a provincial innocent named Mademoiselle Lise arrived in Paris in 1774 under the naive assumption that husbands, as well as weddings, would be offered to local maidens during a municipal celebration. In this tour-de-force carving, Houdon contrasts the matte texture of Lise’s bountiful hair, bound beneath a wide ribbon, with the smooth, polished surface of her unblemished features, endowing his imaginary portrayal with palpable reality. By adopting the idiom of a classical bust, Houdon transcends the specificity of his subject to personify timeless, youthful innocence.

Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828)
Diana the Huntress, 1776–95
Terracotta
75 1/2 in. (191.8 cm)
The Frick Collection, New York; Purchased 1939

On view October 2014–April 2015

Houdon’s exploration of the figure in motion finds full expression in this life-size portrayal of Diana, the goddess of the hunt, who bounds forward in pursuit of her quarry with a bow and (lost) arrow. The open stance of the goddess, who balances on one foot in a display of technical ingenuity, expands the limits of the terracotta medium. In his unorthodox portrayal of the virgin goddess’s nudity, Houdon combines classical subject matter with the knowledge of the human body that he gained while working from life in Rome.

Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828)
Comtesse du Cayla, 1777
Marble
21 1/4 in. (54 cm)
The Frick Collection, New York; Henry Clay Frick Bequest

Houdon portrays the Countess of Cayla (née Élisabeth-Susanne de Jaucourt) as a bacchante, or female follower of Bacchus. By depicting her as she turns to run or dance, with windswept hair and a sidelong gaze, the artist explores the possibilities of the portrait bust format to convey motion. The grape leaves adorning the countess’s breast emphasize her Bacchic role, perhaps an allusion to her husband’s family name, Baschi. The contrast between this work and the more restrained marble busts by Houdon exhibited nearby conveys the artist’s fluid approach to portraiture and the classical tradition, which he adapted to suit his distinct aims and the individual qualities of his sitters.

Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828)
Armand-Thomas Hue, Marquis de Miromesnil, 1777
Marble
25 1/2 in. (64.8 cm)
The Frick Collection, New York; Purchased 1935

Adopting the dignity of a Roman imperial bust, Houdon portrays the marquis in his august role as minister of justice of France, which he held for thirteen years beginning in 1774. The highly polished surface of his official costume, including the buttoned cassock, bow-tied sash, and voluminous robe, is distinct from the delicately textured carving that defines the sitter’s wig and frames his fleeting expression. Houdon conveys the marquis’s intellect through the tensed features around his mouth and the sideways glance of his eyes, which glint with uncanny realism as small reserves of marble highlight the darker recesses of his pupils.

Claude Michel, called Clodion (1738–1814)
Allegories of Day and Night, c. 1780–90
Terracotta
6 3/4 in. (17.3 cm)
Private Collection

On view October 2014–April 2015

In this pair of works from his mature period in Paris, Clodion animates the classical bust format with the expressive naturalism characteristic of late eighteenth-century French sculpture. Personified as a young girl with lush curls and placid features, Day embodies the bounty, warmth, and promise of the sunlit hours in her carefree dishabille. Her foil, Night, lifts her gaze toward the celestial bodies in the heavens, shielding herself from the cool evening air with a stole adorned with moons and stars. These intimately scaled, deftly modeled terracottas likely complemented a fashionable interior ensemble.

Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828)
The Dead Thrush (La Grive Morte), 1782
Marble
8 7/8 x 5 7/8 x 2 5/8 in. (22.5 x 14.9 x 6.5 cm)
The Horvitz Collection, Boston

Houdon applies his powers of lifelike representation to this portrayal of a lifeless songbird hanging by its feet from a nail with a delicate ribbon. The artist amplifies the trompe l’oeil conceit of the work through the drooping wing of the thrush, whose stiff feathers, differentiated from the down of its body, extend beyond the frame in a masterful expression of high-relief carving. The work suggests Houdon’s engagement with the legend of Zeuxis, the ancient Greek artist whose convincing depiction of grapes attracted hungry birds, as well as the sculptor’s ambition to rival the illusionistic possibilities of painting.

Claude Michel, called Clodion (1738–1814)
Jean-Baptiste Lepaute (1727–1802)
The Dance of Time: Three Nymphs Supporting a Clock, 1788
Terracotta, gilt brass, glass
40 3/4 in. (103.5 cm)
The Frick Collection, New York; Purchased through the Bequest of Winthrop Kellogg Edey

On view in the Portico Gallery July 2014–April 2015

Clodion’s base for a glass-enclosed clock by the renowned horologist Lepaute provides a daring variation on the theme of animated caryatids (female figures providing architectural support) that he explored nearly two decades earlier in his Three Graces. With outstretched limbs, the nymphs flout their role as buttresses for the pillar they surround. The circular momentum of their joyous dance, suggested by their billowing draperies, proceeds in unison with the rhythm of the clock’s pendulum and the horizontal rotation of its dial. Together, Clodion’s figures and Lepaute’s timepiece epitomize the beauty, modernity, and classicism that defined the art of the Enlightenment.

Claude Michel, called Clodion (1738–1814)
Zephyrus and Flora, 1799
Terracotta
20 3/4 in. (52.7 cm)
The Frick Collection, New York; Henry Clay Frick Bequest

Clodion demonstrates his mastery of the small-scale terracotta statuette in this joyful representation of the god of the west wind, a herald of spring, tenderly embracing the goddess of flowers as he crowns her with a wreath of roses. Identifying attributes — from Zephyrus’s breeze-blown drapery to the putti scattering flowers near Flora — enhance the spiraling energy of the composition. Although Clodion draws his subject from the antique, the figure group possesses the weightless elegance characteristic of his late style.