Encountering Genius: Houdon's Portraits of Benjamin Franklin

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Benjamin Franklin caused a sensation when he arrived in Paris in December 1776 seeking support for America's struggle for independence: nobles vied to entertain him, and artists scrambled to portray him. Although several artists produced sculpted busts of the visiting diplomat, perhaps the best-known image of Franklin was conceived in 1778 by Jean-Antoine Houdon, who would become the leading portrait sculptor of the period.


Encountering Genius investigates the making of Houdon's marble bust of Franklin—perhaps the finest version realized—shedding new light on this enduring portrait (now in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art). Drawing upon dramatic and visually compelling new technical research, this publication's three essays analyze the materials and processes used in creating Houdon's sculpture, contextualize the iconic portrait, and compare the four most important versions of Houdon's sculpture side-by-side.

  • Paperback
  • 9" x 1/5" x 11"
  • 92 pages
  • Yale University Press, 2011
  • ISBN-10: 0300141645
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300141641
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