Andrew W. Mellon Regional Fellow in the Humanities
2007—2008 Forum on Origins
Assistant Curator, European Decorative Arts & Sculpture, Philadelphia Museum of Art
Origins in Portrait Sculpture: Jean-Antoine Houdon and His Busts of Benjamin Franklin
Whilst portrayals of Benjamin Franklin are frequently encountered in this city, none can rival the sensitivity, detail, and spontaneity of the portrait of Franklin first realized by the French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon in 1778, of which a marble version of the bust, carved in 1779, crowns the sculpture collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Although a familiar image, the origins of Houdon’s portrait are enigmatic, stemming from uncertainty over whether Franklin posed for the artist, or if this astonishingly lifelike depiction was created before sculptor and celebrated subject had ever met. This project will investigate the physical origins of the sculpture, and examine this iconic work in relation to Houdon’s sculptural practices, his approach to portraiture and commercial strategies as the ‘Sculptor of the Enlightenment’.