Introduction

Great thinkers of the Enlightenment esteemed the order, proportions, and harmony of classical sculpture and the rational thought perceived to guide it. At the French Academy in Rome, the most promising young artists of France absorbed the lessons of antiquity by copying its masterworks, in this way advancing the rise of the neoclassical aesthetic, which embodied Enlightenment ideals.

This exhibition celebrates two of the leading French sculptors of the late eighteenth century: Claude Michel, called Clodion (1738–1814), and Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828). Clodion and Houdon followed similar paths at the outset of their careers, winning the French Academy’s prestigious Prix de Rome for sculpture, which enabled study in Italy and first-hand engagement with the antique. In Rome and in their mature years in Paris, they adapted their knowledge of classical art to suit distinct creative objectives, as exemplified by Houdon’s exquisite marble portrait busts and Clodion’s lively terracottas. Their works maintained a shared commitment to both the models of antiquity and close observation from life.

The installation highlights Houdon’s and Clodion’s defining contributions to the art of the Enlightenment with a selection of their works from the permanent collection, assembled by Henry Clay Frick, his daughter Helen Clay Frick, and more recent gifts and purchases. Shown as a group for the first time, along with rarely seen loans from private collections, the sculptures illuminate the artists’ expressions of the spirit of their age through the language of antiquity, as well as their innovative achievements in marble and terracotta.

Left: Jean-Antoine Houdon, Comtesse du Cayla, 1777. The Frick Collection

Right: Claude Michel, called Clodion, Zephyrus and Flora, 1799. The Frick Collection