Madame His

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.