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Jean-Antoine Houdon
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Trained in Paris and Rome and acknowledged as the preeminent French sculptor of the eighteenth century, Houdon's popularity survived the turbulence of the Revolution and flourished in the society of the Republic. He seemed to be above political controversy. Despite his alliance to the French crown, many of whose family members he sculpted, Houdon also appealed to Napoleon 1, who made him a member of the Legion of Honor and sat to the sculptor in 1806. The son of an art school janitor, the young Houdon was exposed to a creative academic atmosphere from childhood. Manifesting early ability, by the time he was fifteen he had won a school prize in drawing. At twenty he won the Prix de Rome, but delayed going to Italy to finish schooling in Paris. His four years in Rome were productive and educative. After returning to Paris in 1769 Houdon began to show his work in the annual Salons, on one occasion exhibiting as many works as all other entrants combined. He is best known as a portraitist. In addition to the portrait busts of royal, academic, and political personages, Houdon also produced mythological works, among them Diana, a shapely standing bronze. His renditions of children are particularly charming. Accompanied by three pupils, Houdon went to America in 1785, an unusual decision for an established European artist of that period. While in America Houdon modeled a bust, a life mask, and a full-length figure of George Washington, by that time an international hero. Houdon taught until his eightyfirst year.