After a model by Jean Antoine Houdon (French, 1741–1828)
H. 27 5/8 in. (70.2 cm)
Bequest of John L. Cadwalader, 1914 (14.58.133)
John Paul Jones, the Scottish-born hero of the American War of Independence, was celebrated in France for his cross-channel exploits against the powerful British navy. In 1780, Houdon was commissioned to make Jones's bust by the Loge des Neuf Soeurs, the Parisian Masonic lodge named after the Muses, to which both men belonged (he had also just produced the busts of two other Lodge members, Franklin [72.6] and Voltaire [1972.61]). Unlike so many of Houdon's subjects, who appear to be interacting with their immediate company, Jones's knitted brow and narrowed gaze give the impression of a seaman appraising some threat on the distant horizon.
The likeness of the handsome but temperamental Jones, shown in his naval uniform with his natural hair brushed tightly back and tied, was much appreciated by the sitter, who ordered numerous plaster copies for his friends and associates. First exhibited at the Salon of 1781 in terracotta-colored plaster, the composition was one of the most frequently replicated of Houdon's portraits. Numerous twentieth-century casts were made from examples that originated in Houdon's studio, in this case, the plaster in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts which Jones had given to Major General William Irvine in 1788.