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LACMA given Houdon image of Voltaire

March 03, 2004|Scott Timberg | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has received the gift of a life-sized plaster sculpture of French thinker Voltaire by Jean-Antoine Houdon.

Houdon, widely considered Europe's finest 18th century sculptor, is best known for his sculptures of Thomas Jefferson (the basis for the portrait on the nickel), George Washington (a heroic marble statue), Benjamin Franklin and the French writer and encyclopedist Diderot.

The J. Paul Getty Museum exhibit "Houdon: Sculptor of the Enlightenment," which closed Jan. 25, was the first full-scale retrospective of the artist. The sculptor was noted for his emulation of the classical style and for often capturing an introspective quality in his subjects.

His Voltaire shows the philosopher in flowing Roman robes and with a wry, knowing smile.

LACMA's sculpture of "Seated Voltaire" came from the Ahmanson Foundation, which has given gifts to the museum, especially European paintings and sculptures, as far back as the early 1960s.

The piece, which conservators at the museum of art describe as being in good condition, originated at Wildenstein & Co. in New York.

Voltaire, an advocate of rationalism and democracy best known for his short satiric novel "Candide," sat for Houdon shortly before the writer's death in 1778.

The sculptor produced two other versions in plaster, two marble statues and two terra-cotta casts.

LACMA's Voltaire is the only copy outside Europe. It will go on display Friday in the Ahmanson Building.

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