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The Getty Mounts First Major Exhibition Of Work By The Greatest Portrait Sculptor Of The 18th Century

Houdon Defined Our Image of Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Voltaire, Diderot, and Other Figures of the Enlightenment

Jean-Antoine Houdon: Sculptor of the Enlightenment
At the Getty November 4, 2003-January 25, 2004

September 2, 2003

Los Angeles—Friend and associate of princes, statesmen, and the great intellectuals of his day, Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741-1828) is widely acknowledged as the greatest portrait sculptor of the 18th century. The Getty Center's winter Premiere Presentation, Jean-Antoine Houdon: Sculptor of the Enlightenment, November 4, 2003 through January 25, 2004, is the first major international exhibition of the great French sculptor's work. 

More than 70 Houdon sculptures, created in marble, bronze, terracotta, and plaster, have been brought together for the first time in nearly two centuries, demonstrating the remarkable degree of insight and physical accuracy that the sculptor incorporated into his art. The exhibition also marks the first time Houdon's magnificent bust of Marie-Sébastien-Charles-François Fontaine de Biré will be seen by the public in more than 200 years. Recently acquired by the Getty, the newly rediscovered bust was last exhibited in 1785. Focusing on Houdon's key fully documented sculptures, the exhibition features vivid portraits of the prominent intellectual, political, and military figures of the Enlightenment—including leaders of the American Revolution—as well as charming portraits of children and works depicting allegorical and mythological subjects.

"Houdon's talents as a sculptor brought unparalleled sensitivity and invention to the sculpted portrait," says Deborah Gribbon, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum and vice president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. "He created iconic images of the most notable figures of his day. His portrayals open a window for us onto the Enlightenment, a momentous era that changed the way people thought of themselves and their potential to change the world."

Houdon's busts and statues, full of vitality and brimming with personality, have helped shape the modern-day view of such Enlightenment heroes as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Voltaire, Molière, Denis Diderot, and many others. The exhibition focuses on Houdon's ambition to create a "gallery of great men" in the tradition of ancient Rome and the Renaissance, and makes clear his central position and influence in the European art world of the late 1700s.

From the work that first won Houdon his fame, L’Ecorché (1767), to vital and realistic busts such as Benjamin Franklin (1779) and Thomas Jefferson (1789), to his mythological subjects such as Morpheus (1777) and Diana (1782), and later works like Napoleon Bonaparte (1806), Houdon's finest sculptures are presented in all their expressive power and luminous realism.

The Getty Center's presentation will include an entire room devoted to Houdon's realistic and engaging depictions of children. Busts of Houdon's young subjects will be installed at a child-friendly height, allowing kids to encounter these portrait sculptures face to face.

The Getty exhibition brings together Houdon sculptures from the Louvre in Paris; the National Gallery of Art in Washington; the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Detroit Institute of Arts; the Hermitage in St. Petersburg; the National Museum of Stockholm; the Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon; the Villa Borghese in Rome; the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in California; and nearly 40 others around the world.

The Houdon exhibition comes to the Getty after being on view at the National Gallery of Art. Following the Getty showing, it will travel to the Musée national du Château de Versailles from March 1 through May 30, 2004. Guest curator for the exhibition is Anne L. Poulet, curator emerita of European sculpture and decorative arts at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, who will become the new director of the Frick Collection in New York in October.

The exhibition is organized by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; the National Gallery of Art, Washington; and the Réunion des musées nationaux, Paris, and l'Etablissement public du musée et du domaine de Versailles. This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

Discover fascinating details in Houdon's portraits on the exhibition's interactive Web site, which will soon be available at

Jean-Antoine Houdon: Sculptor of the Enlightenment
By Anne L. Poulet with Guilhem Scherf, Ulrike D. Mathies, Christoph Frank, Claude Vandalle, Dean Walker, and Monique Barbier
This 384-page exhibition catalog includes 140 color illustrations and 270 black-and-white illustrations.
(Cloth: $85)
Available in the Getty Museum Bookstore or by calling (310) 440-7059.

All events are free and are held in the Harold M. Williams Auditorium unless otherwise noted. Seating reservations are required. For reservations and information, please call (310) 440-7300 or visit Tickets are available on-site or by phone.


Drop by as artist Jonathan Bickart demonstrates the art of terracotta sculpture techniques.
Thursdays: November 6 and 20, and December 4 and 11
Sundays: November 9, 16, and 23, and December 7 and 14, 1:00–3:00 p.m.
Museum Courtyard


Guest curator Anne Poulet discusses the exhibition.
Part of the Sculpture Lecture Series.
Thursday, November 6, 7:00 p.m.

Dean Walker, the Henry P. McIlhenny Senior Curator of European Decorative Arts and Sculpture, Philadelphia Museum of Art, discusses the exhibition.
Part of the Sculpture Lecture Series.
Thursday, December 4, 7:00 p.m.

Gordon Getty Concert Series:
French Music from the Age of the Enlightenment: Dulphy, Rameau, and Rousseau, featuring the Aulos Ensemble

Founded in 1973 by five graduates of the Juilliard School of Music, the Aulos Ensemble has created a new awareness of the rich rewards of performance on "original" instruments and collaborations with leading artists in authentic performance practices from the United States and Europe.
Tickets: $20; $15 students and seniors
Saturday, November 22, 8:00 p.m.


Talks are held at 6:00 and 7:30 p.m. in the Museum galleries. Sign up at the Museum Information Desk beginning at 4:30 p.m.

Robert Graham, a sculptor known for his large-scale bronze monuments including the Great Bronze Doors of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, discusses the exhibition.
Friday, December 12, 2003 
Robbie Conal, a guerrilla poster artist whose satirical posters deal with contemporary political issues, discusses the exhibition.
Friday, January 16, 2004  


Casting Characters: Portraits and Studies of Heads
November 4, 2003–February 1, 2004
Artists throughout history were fascinated with the endless variety of human types, as seen in the drawings of portraits, caricatures, and expressive heads featured in this exhibition. Whether these drawn faces were destined to become portraits or figures in a narrative composition, artists attempted to create characters and personalities in the study of vivid facial expression. This exhibition showcases the breadth of the Getty Museum’s collection, with examples that span the 16th through the 19th centuries. The exhibition features a number of recent acquisitions, including Jean-Etienne Liotard’s Portrait of a Lady, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s Head of a Man Looking Up, and Paul Gauguin’s Head of a Tahitian Woman.

Note to Editors: Images available upon request.  For more information, the public can call 310-440-7300 or visit

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