Enlightenment and Beauty: Sculptures by Houdon and Clodion

(classical music) – [Anne L Poulet] Almost
exact contemporaries, Jean Antoine Houdon and Claude Michel, called Clodion, were steeped in the study
of the classical past in Paris and in Rome. Clodion made a specialty of small scale statuettes and reliefs inspired by the antique, as in this early relief
of the selling of Cupids, which is based on an engraving
after a wall painting that had recently been discovered in Herculaneum. And he later repeated the composition, with subtle changes, in marble. Houdon, too, could work
on a small scale in marble as in this delicately modeled
relief of a dead thrush, in which represents the bird life sized and succeeds in conveying the textures of it’s limp, soft,
feathered body and open wing, defying the hardness of the stone itself. This terra cotta sculpture
of the three graces may well be a model for a fountain. The three female figures, each wearing a classical gown, or chaitan, with their arms lowered and
their fingers interlaced, stand around a central pedestal. The composition reflects
Clodion’s familiarity with both classical and
renaissance prototypes. As was often the case with Clodion, he reused the composition of three supporting female figures. In this instance, for the
base of a superb clock, by Jean-Baptiste Lepaute. Here, the figures dance and whirl, as though they were turning
the annular dial of the clock. A masterpiece dating from the
eve of the French Revolution, Clodion’s terra cotta clock base is conceived and executed as a finished work on a small scale. Clodion’s subjects are taken
mostly from the pagan world of Ovid, often representing allegorical or mythological scenes. One of Henry Clay Frick’s acquisitions was this beautifully
modeled late terra cotta of Zephyrus and Flora where we see the winged
god of the west wind crowning his bride Flora
with a wreath of roses as they embrace. A small putti, floating on a cloud, are gently pushing the couple together. During Houdon’s time as a student in Rome, he concentrated on studying
antique sculpture and anatomy. This small terra cotta figure of a Vestal, who is holding an offering
bowl in her raised hands, was inspired by an antique marble in the Capitoline Museum in Rome. However, she is not static, we are aware of the body beneath the robe as her left knee is slightly bent and her head turns to her left, evoking slow, deliberate movement. Among his greatest works was this life size
mythological figure of Diana, goddess of the moon and the hunt. Houdon’s departure from most
antique and later models is in her graphic nudity, for she was usually shown wearing a tunic. The technical feat of
balancing the figure on one leg is an impressive one for the sculptor. It is Houdon’s portraits
for which he is best known. And it is to him that
we owe the most powerful and lifelike images of the men and women of the Enlightenment
in Europe and America. Here, you see the portrait of the beautiful, young, Comtesse du Cayla. The sculptor depicts her as a bacchante. Across her breast falls
a branch of grape leaves, alluding to Bacchus, the
god of wine and revelry. The artist makes use
of the grey inclusions in the white marble to give the impression that she is running
through dappled sunlight. Houdon’s bust of Madame His portrays a refined woman of 42 who was married to a banker and was a personal friend of
the sculptor and his wife. It is in the rendering
of the sitters features and expression that Houdon excels. Her eyes, carved with
a cavity for the iris and a small rod of marble
attached to the lid to catch the light, sparkle with a reserved intelligence. Houdon brings the same skills
to his half length bust of the Marquis de Miromesnil. Commissioned to immortalize
the Marquis’ appointment as Garde des Sceaux, or
Attorney General of France, by King Louis the sixteenth. The textures of his robes of office are superbly rendered. And yet it is the face and
the character of the man that prevail. Both his pride, even smugness and his wily intelligence are conveyed through
the carriage of the head and the sidelong glance of the eyes. The exhibition in the Portico Gallery offers us the opportunity to appreciate these exquisite sculptures in natural daylight. We welcome you to visit Enlightenment and Beauty: Sculptures by Houdon and Clodion through April 5th, 2015. Support for the presentation
is generously provided by Margot and Jerry Bogert and Mrs. Henry Clay Frick the second. For more information,
please visit our website frick.org. (classical piano music)

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