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High Museum of Art Presents "Houdon at the Louvre: Masterworks of the Enlightenment"
Jean-Antoine Houdon, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), 1778. Terracotta. Museé du Louvre, Department of Sculptures, RF 349. Photo © Museé du Louvre, Paris / Pierre Philbert.

ATLANTA, GA.- The sixth “Louvre Atlanta” exhibition opens at the High Museum of Art, featuring highlights from the Louvre’s unparalleled collection of sculpture by Jean-Antoine Houdon. “Houdon at the Louvre: Masterworks of the Enlightenment” will feature approximately 20 works portraying intellectual and political leaders, including famous busts of French Enlightenment thinkers Denis Diderot and Voltaire, portraits of American founding fathers George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, and well-known portraits of Houdon’s wife and children. For the first time, a catalogue featuring the Louvre’s entire Houdon collection will be published in English to accompany the exhibition. The exhibition will be on view through September 7, 2008.

“Visitors to this exhibition will discover the work of the greatest sculptor from the Enlightenment period,” said Michael E. Shapiro, the High’s Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr. Director. “Jean-Antoine Houdon was truly a master of his craft and an essential representative of his time. His iconic portraits depict some of the most significant figures in French and American history. The exhibition will give visitors an in-depth look at another aspect of the Louvre’s world-famous collections.”

The Louvre possesses the largest and most important collection of works by Jean-Antoine Houdon, a major artist of the French Enlightenment. The sculpture busts featured in “Houdon at the Louvre” reveal the breadth of Houdon’s oeuvre. The objects on view—including busts, a funerary monument, a medallion and a death allegory—are made in a variety of media, such as marble, bronze, terracotta and plaster. Houdon was renowned for the incredible likeness and lifelike quality exhibited by his sculpted portraits. The methods he employed to achieve these effects are largely unknown. The exhibition will also examine his artistic process.

Exhibition highlights include a bust of General George Washington. For its creation and that of other related sculptures, Houdon traveled to Mount Vernon in 1785 to meet and study Washington in person. Houdon and three assistants spent two weeks in Virginia where they took a mold of Washington’s face for accuracy and then returned to France to finish the piece. The final product of Houdon’s American expedition resulted in what Washington’s family and contemporaries deemed the most lifelike depiction of him ever made. Houdon’s bust of George Washington was the basis for the depiction of Washington on the United States quarter.

Houdon was born in Versailles in 1741, and spent the majority of his life working in Paris. In 1761, Houdon was awarded the Prix de Rome in sculpture, and for ten years he lived and studied in Rome, where he was influenced by ancient and Renaissance art. He then returned to France and ultimately became a professor at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Houdon died in 1828.

On view concurrently with “Houdon at the Louvre” is “The Louvre and the Ancient World,” featuring more than 70 works from the Louvre’s unparalleled Egyptian, Near Eastern and Greco-Roman antiquities collections. Showcasing works dating from the third millennium BC through the third century AD, the exhibition examines the rise of the museum and its collections of antiquities under Napoleon, the discoveries and decipherment of hieroglyphics and cuneiform, and the Louvre’s leading role in excavating the cradle of civilization at the end of the 19th century and during the 20th century. A special installation showcases the colossal, ten-foot-long “Tiber”—one of the largest sculptures in the Louvre’s collections.

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