Voltaire, among the most famous figures of his age, returned to Paris in early 1778 after a long exile. Houdon quickly sought him out. While the sculptor explored different ideas for a bust, it was this one that caught the public’s imagination and would come to represent the sitter. Voltaire is shown without a wig, both recalling ancient Roman portraits and suggesting an informal, intimate setting. Houdon draws out his lively intelligence and benevolence, seeing him as the embodiment of wisdom. The artist and his workshop produced replicas in marble, bronze and plaster over the years.
45.7 x 30 x 26 cm
Presented in memory of Sir James Grant, KCMG, by his family, 1934