Houdon's portraits of the 18th century French philosopher Francois Marie Arouet Voltaire (1694-1778) are among the artist's most famous images, and were commissioned as commemorative portraits in the year of the philosopher's death. Houdon portrayed him in various poses: either full-length or in busts, with perruque or without, with drapery around the shoulders or, as in the present example, with a bare chest (see Arnason, op. cit, figs. 111, 114, 117, 115, 116 respectively). It is virtually identical to a version (ibid, fig. 115), which formerly belonged to Mrs. Vincent Astor and was sold in Christie's, New York (24 May 2001, lot 140). It also compares very closely to an autograph marble bust of the philosopher in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (ibid, fig. 114). All these busts depict Voltaire in his simplest form. They are highly naturalistic and reveal the humanity of the man without the distraction of court dress.