This Voltaire bust perfectly captures the penetrating wit and intellect of an author who epitomized the spirit of the French Enlightenment.

Completed three years after Voltaire's death (1694 - 1778), this marble bust is almost identical to the head of a seated figure of Voltaire also by Houdon, which is now at the Comedie-Francaise. It bears the masks of Comedy and Tragedy at its base and is dedicated to the Marquis de Vilette, presumably intended as a lasting memorial to their friendship. It was the first sculpture by Houdon to be acquired by the V&A and one of the relatively few examples of French eighteenth-century art to have been supported by the Art Fund, showing the relative disinclination of many museums in Britain to increase their holdings in this field.

Provenance

Owned by either 2nd or 3rd Marquise de Villette. Seligmann; Oppenheimer family


V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum)

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020 7942 2000
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Exhibitions at V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum)

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