2 December 2014
A PLASTER BUST OF JEAN-PIERRE-CHARLES LE NOIR (1732-1807)
BY JEAN-ANTOINE HOUDON (1741-1828), 1784
Signed 'HOUDON.F.1784' to the reverse of the shoulder; together with a later Italian cylindrical marble pedestal
25 ¼ in. (64.4 cm.) high; 68 ¾ in. (174.4 cm.) high, overall
Private Collection, France, acquired before 1990.
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H.H. Arnason, The Sculptures of Houdon, London, 1964, fig. 150, cat. 90.
L. Reau, Houdon: sa Vie et son Oeuvre, Paris, 1975, p. 36, cat. 154.
The marble version of the present plaster bust of Jean-Pierre-Charles Le Noir (d. 1807), now in the Louvre, was long thought to be a portrait of Chrétien Lamoignon de Malesherbes (d. 1794). Recent comparisons with engravings suggest the bust actually represents Le Noir, who was the Lieutenant Général de Police de Paris and Director of the Royal Library. During his term as head of the Parisian police, Le Noir was actively involved in improving the city’s public services. Among his many achievements, he contributed to the abolition of torture and the re-establishment of the Mont de Piété, a form of charitable pawnbroker which had been suppressed in 1644.
The preeminent sculptor of the French Enlightenment, Jean-Antoine Houdon was consistently praised for the quality of his portraits, and for his ability to subtly capture the individual character of his sitter. It is evident here in the darting of Le Noir’s eyes and the lightly modelled facial musculature which suggests the sitter was a man of humour and wisdom.
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