November 04, 2003

Jean-Antoine Houdon's bust of Marie-Sébastien-Charles-François Fontaine de Biré, hidden from public view for more than 200 years, is acquired by the Getty

: September 2, 2003


LOS ANGELES—The Getty announces the acquisition of the bust of Marie-Sébastien-Charles-François Fontaine de Biré (1785) by the celebrated French artist Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828), widely acknowledged as the greatest portrait sculptor of the 18th century. The marble bust, which was last seen in exhibition at the Salon of 1785, disappeared from public view for over 200 years. Recently rediscovered, the sculpture is now part of the Getty’s permanent collection.

Carved at the height of Houdon’s career, the bust of Marie-Sébastien-Charles-François Fontaine de Biré is one of the master sculptor’s greatest works. Until its discovery late last year, the bust was known from a half-size studio copy dated 1786. This original full-sized bust of de Biré will return to public view in the Premiere Presentation Jean-Antoine Houdon: Sculptor of the Enlightenment, at the Getty Center from November 4, 2003-January 25, 2004. It will be featured along with more than 70 Houdon sculptures that have been brought together for the first time in nearly two centuries.

Like many of Houdon’s other subjects, de Biré was a man of wealth and power. He held a number of lucrative administrative posts in the government before assuming an important treasury position in Paris in 1782. The bust was most likely commissioned soon thereafter. Rather than disguise the signs of age in his subject, Houdon seized the opportunity to articulate the wrinkles and lines that convey the man’s character. The twinkling eyes and lively smile seem to energize the sculpture, producing an insightful and life-like portrait. The bust captures the psychological sensitivity and personality evident in Houdon’s best work, ranking it among the great iconic images of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Voltaire, Molière, Denis Diderot, and many others that Houdon created and defined for generations to come.

The French marble portrait bust represents the ultimate sculptural expression of the 18th century, and Houdon is the virtuoso of the genre. Houdon’s bust Marie-Sébastien-Charles-François Fontaine de Biré is an important addition to the Getty’s collection of sculpture, which includes portrait busts from the earliest periods in the Getty’s collections through the 19th century.

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Thea M. Page
Getty Communications Dept.

The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that features the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Research Institute, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the Getty Grant Program. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs are based at the Getty Center in Los Angeles.

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