Comtesse du Cayla

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.