Jean-Antoine Houdon (French, 1741–1828)
H. 57 in. (144.8 cm)
Bequest of Kate Trubee Davison, 1962 (62.55)
Houdon's portrayal of Winter departs starkly from the usual allegorical representation of the season, typically depicted as a hoary old man. The naturalistic pose of the shivering, bare-bottomed girl, whose only covering is a shawl wrapped around her upper body, generates an empathy not evoked by more traditional versions. The figure's narrative aspect inspired its alternate title—"The Shivering Girl"—already current at the time of its initial presentation.
The boldness and severity of this image is almost as shocking now as when an earlier, marble version was first shown in the sculptor's studio during the Salon of 1783. As a contemporary observed when it was rejected for the 1785 Salon, "an entirely nude figure is not as indecent as one draped with false modesty."
Houdon originally proposed that the composition be carved in marble. The initial terracotta sketch, as well as the marble version (originally paired with a statue of Summer), shows an urn and tree trunk behind her, augmenting the inadequate support of the girl's tightly clutched legs. Houdon was particularly proud of his feat in casting our bronze version, made in 1787 for the liberal but licentious duc d'Orleans. The more supple (stress-accommodating) material enabled the sculptor to eliminate the auxiliary mass and to emphasize the isolated figure's exposure even more painfully than in the sculptor's first conception.
The composition was extremely popular despite the discomfort it caused the Académie, and it was frequently copied, much to Houdon's chagrin.