Beauty and Belief

"There is this combination of naturalism and abstraction that goes beyond human."—Jim Draper, curator

Jean Antoine Houdon (French, 1741–1828). Winter, 1787. Bronze. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of Kate Trubee Daison, 1962 (62.55). Learn more about this object.

How does the sculpted body communicate? Hear from Met experts, leading authorities, and rising stars, each with a unique viewpoint on the language of gesture, facial expression, and pose.

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Narrator: This sculpture, Winter, is by Jean Antoine Houdon. In French it's called "La Frileuse," or "The Shivering Woman."

Jim Draper: He's studied her long enough in this stance to get it just right. She's wrapped herself up but she hasn't done a totally good job of it because she's just concentrating on her upper half, where her lower half, including her beautiful behind, are almost totally exposed. She's vulnerable.

Jackie Terrassa: Her legs are smooth, they're young. Her right foot turns inward just slightly and creates this almost flirtatious way of standing.

Narrator: Her arms and fingers are gentle and loose, not gripping against the cold.

Jackie Terrassa: The sculpture is incredibly beautiful, elegant. It might recall an ancient sculpture of Venus.

Jim Draper: There is this combination of naturalism and an underlying abstraction in the arrangement that goes beyond human. There's a discrete zigzag in the curve of the bent leg. Another abstraction, if you like, is the total contrast between the folds of the drapery and the smoothness of the flesh—and even that is a way of weighing light volumes, heavy volumes, flesh versus fabric, in a way that's natural but also has abstract underpinnings. The whole thing is done with the utmost delicacy. She is very fully formed in all her sublime contours.

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