The Dead Thrush

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Marble sculpture in high-relief of a dead songbird hanging upside down, pinned by its legs to a flat wall-like surface

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.

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