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Head of a Woman

Jean Antoine Houdon French

Not on view

This study of a Black woman’s head is the only remaining trace of a lifesize figure that once stood on a garden fountain by Houdon. Cast in lead, the standing figure held a pitcher from which water poured over a bathing woman sculpted in white marble. While the bather is now in The Met collection (Gallery 548), the Black attendant was lost or destroyed in the aftermath of the French Revolution (1789). Houdon drew upon classical sculpture in creating this likeness, yet also emphasized the exoticism of his subject by giving the work an undifferentiated black surface and pierced earlobes. In 1794, the sculptor repurposed this study by submitting it to the Salon, the annual art exhibition in Paris, with an inscription on its socle, now destroyed, commemorating the French abolition of slavery.

Head of a Woman, Jean Antoine Houdon (French, Versailles 1741–1828 Paris), Plaster and paint, French

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