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Robert Fulton (1765–1815)

Jean Antoine Houdon (French, Versailles 1741–1828 Paris)

Date:
1803–4
Culture:
French (Paris)
Medium:
Painted plaster
Dimensions:
Overall, incl. socle (approx. field measurement): 27 1/2 x 15 x 13 1/4 x 27 in. (68.6 x 38.1 x 33.7 cm) Ht. without socle: 21 1/2 in. (54.6 cm)
Classification:
Sculpture
Credit Line:
Wrightsman Fund, 1989
Accession Number:
1989.329
  • Description

    This bust depicts one of the last of many Americans to be sculpted by Houdon, the French master portraitist whose earlier images of Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin are embedded in our national consciousness. A painter first and an inventor second, Fulton sat for Houdon while visiting Paris in a fruitless attempt to enlist funding for his submarine invention several years before the ultimately successful Hudson River voyage of his steamship Clermont. The bust appears to have been commissioned by poet and diplomat Joel Barlow, a close friend of Houdon residing in Paris. In this apparently unique model, the handsome subject's air of vigor and informality is emphasized by the insouciance of his flaring overcoat lapels; later, buttoned-up versions of the bust echo the graver quality of Houdon's portrait of Barlow, with which the Fulton portrait originally was paired.

    A fitting coda to our already stellar collection of Houdon's pre-Revolutionary sculpture, this lively image also differs from the artist's Empire-era portraits of Europeans, which conform to a more severe Neoclassical mode. It may express the aging sculptor's view of the American spirit unfettered by Old World manners.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Signature: (on right shoulder) houdon f. (see cat. cards for transcription.

  • Provenance

    Sarah Hunter Kelly

  • See also
    Who
    What
    Where
    When
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History
    MetPublications
207810

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