In 1846, François Rude's native town of Dijon commissioned an important sculpture from its renowned citizen. By 1855, the year of Rude's death, the two and a half metre high Hébé à l'Aigle de Jupiter was far advanced, but was completed posthumously under the direction of the sculptor's widow and studio assistant, Paul Cabet. The finished marble was exhibited at the Salon of 1857 (no. 3095) where it was lauded by critics, among them Théophile Gautier, who hailed Rude as "le triomphateur posthume de l'Exposition", and said of the work "never has Plato's definition - beauty is the splendour of truth - been better justified.
Rude inscribed the base of his original marble version with the names of Homer, Hesiod, Euripides, Ovid, Virgil and Catullus, testifying to his training in the Antique and imbuing the work with poetic significance. The figure of Hebe has a harmonious and linear face, emphasised by the raised arm and the fluid sliding motion of her drapery. She represents the goddess of youth and is thus crowned by spring flowers. The eagle, contrastingly, is a bold and angular force, driving ferociously towards the ambrosia and ruffled by the smiling coquette who holds it just out of reach. The subject has abandoned its Antique parentage and is treated in a modern vein with eloquent naturalism. Rude has elevated Hebe to the symbol of Woman and the eagle to that of Desire, two of the energies he perceived as fundamental to the cycle of life.
The group was cast in bronze in a reduced size by Thiébaut and continued by their successeurs, Fumière et Gavignot. Interestingly, two variations of the model exist, the specific differences being to the calix held up by Hebe and to the flowers adorning her hair. Examples of the most frequently seen version (see casts in the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and The Art Institute of Chicago), show a plain-sided cup with inturned handles and loosely modelled foliage and flower buds to the hair. Meanwhile, the lesser seen model, of which the present fine cast is an example (a further cast is in the collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts), has a two-handled shallow cup cast with trailing vines and hair adorned with intricately cast flowerheads. Except for the cup handles, this version corresponds to Rude's original marble in Dijon (see illustration above), and is therefore likely to have been earlier and cast in more limited numbers. Of further note is the lack of Rude's signature, but the apparently later and erroneously added inscription, 'E. Drouot', presumably referring to the sculptor, Edouard Drouot, who himself produced a model of the same subject in the early years of the 20th century.
A cast of the other version was sold Sotheby's London, 28 October 2003, lot 183 (£16,800).