The political upheaval of early 19th century France led to numerous commissions for official sculpture, ranging from public monuments to portrait busts, as each regime hastened to visually manifest its authority. The monarchs of the Restauration - Louis XVIII and Charles X - were among the most active patrons of said sculpture, and the present bust is almost certainly an example of such a commission.
Representing Louis XVIII - the brother of Louis XVI and penultimate Bourbon King of France - the present bust can possibly be attributed to Baron François-Joseph Bosio (1768-1845) on the basis of comparisons with similar works by the sculptor. A related marble bust of the monarch by Bosio was shown at the Salon of 1814 (no. 1420, whereabouts currently unknown) and subsequently copied several times by the artist with versions in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Marseille, the Musée Denon, Chalon-sur-Saône and the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Brest. A bronze cast by Lenoir-Ravrio, likely after Bosio's Salon entry, is in the Louvre (N 15812) and closely recalls the present lot in its scale, composition and richly defined details. Another bronze bust of Louis XVIII of similar size and composition attributed to Bosio (c. 1815), and formerly in the collection of Michael Hall, is in the Metropolitan Museum (2000.630.4).
Born in Monaco, Bosio trained under Augustin Pajou and, later, Antonio Canova during his sojourn in Italy. Upon his return to France in 1807, he was commissioned by Baron Vivant Denon to create several bas-reliefs for the Colonne de la Grande Armée in the Place Vendôme (c. 1807-1810) and would go on to execute portraits of Napoleon and his family. During the Restauration, his production flourished, and he received important Parisian commissions including the equestrian monument to Louis XIV in the Place des Victoires (c. 1816-1822) and the bronze Quadriga atop the Arc du Caroussel (c. 1829). During this same period, he was named premier sculpteur du Roi, a title that appears to have stroked his ego, as he is purported to have said: 'C'est moi et Bernini...le premier sculpteur du Roi! Les Français, ils n'ont jamais été sculpteurs du roi!' (S. Lami, Dictionnaire des Sculpteurs de l'Ecole Française au Dix-Neuvième Siècle, Paris, 1914, I, p. 150). This imposing bronze could, therefore, be seen as a manifestation of the hubris of both sculptor and sitter: a tempestuous virtuoso and a resolute, albeit corpulent, French sovereign.
Several of Bosio's contemporaries completed representations of Louis XVIII including the French sculptor, Jean-Pierre Cortot (1787-1843). During Cortot's Italian sojourn, he executed a monumental, full-length marble sculpture of Louis XVIII (c. 1816-1878) for the Villa Medici, Rome, the upper portion of which closely resembles the present bust. Upon his return to France, he, too, was commissioned to create royal monuments. A drawing by Benjamin Duvivier in the Musée Carnavalet after a model for Cortot's never-realized large-scale statue of Louis XVI (c. 1815-1819) recalls both the Medici marble of Louis XVIII and the present portrait (CARD08915). The largest group of comparable busts, however, suggests a more likely attribution to Bosio, whose connections to the Bourbon monarchy, prolific output and brash manner seem to be in keeping with the spirit of the present bronze.