Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Jean-Antoine Houdon, [before 24 January 1784]

From Jean-Antoine Houdon4

LS: American Philosophical Society

[before January 24, 1784]5


J’ai l’honneur de vous prévenir que je dois couler une statüe en bronze: Si cette opération d’un moment peut intérresser votre goût et votre curiosité; je vous prie de me faire celui de vous rendre à onze heures précises du matin 24 de ce mois au lieu indiqué par l’adresse ci-incluse.6

J’ai l’honneur d être Monsieur Votre très humble et très obeïssant serviteur./.7


[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

4This generic invitation is the first extant letter from Houdon to BF. The two must have met in 1779, when Houdon’s celebrated bust of BF was exhibited at the Salon and BF presented a copy to the Loge des Neuf Sœurs, of which he was then vénérable and Houdon was a newly elected member: xxx, frontispiece, xxxi, lxiv–lxv, 231, 238n. According to WTF, Houdon gave BF four copies of the bust, though no evidence survives of when those gifts were made: WTF to Caffiéri, April 3, 1785, APS.

Charles C. Sellers and other scholars have claimed that Houdon was not formally introduced to BF until the fall of 1783, based on a letter of Nov. 8, 1783, from Houdon to an unnamed correspondent, in which the sculptor alludes to the recipient’s having recently “presented” him to BF (APS). For a discussion of the sculptor’s relationship to BF during this period see Sellers, Franklin in Portraiture, pp. 304–16; Jack Hinton, Melissa Meighan, and Andrew Lins, Encountering Genius: Houdon’s Portraits of Benjamin Franklin (Philadelphia, 2011), pp. 26–37, 70–3.

5The day Houdon attempted to cast a bronze statue of Diana in one piece, rather than casting individual parts to be assembled by welding, as he had previously done. To his great disappointment, the experiment failed: Guilhem Scherf, Houdon: Diane chasseresse (Paris, 2000), p. 24.

Houdon discussed this rarely used casting technique with BF and others shortly before writing the Nov. 8 letter cited above. In that letter, he informed his correspondent that the comte de Buffon had offered to take BF a copy of the “livre en question Sur la fonte de Louis quinze.” Suspecting that Buffon might delay, however, Houdon offered to lend BF his own copy, and asked the correspondent to deliver it. The work was undoubtedly Pierre-Jean Mariette, Description des travaux qui ont précédé, accompagné et suivi la fonte en bronze d’un seul jet de la statue équestre de Louis XV, dit le Bien-Aimé … (Paris, 1768), which detailed the painstaking process of casting Edme Bouchardon’s equestrian statue of Louis XV in one piece in 1758. Because Houdon’s letter remains among BF’S papers, we assume that it was given to BF at the time the volume was delivered.

6The enclosure is missing. Houdon’s atelier at Nos. 197 and 199, rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré was in the same building complex as the du Roule foundry where Bouchardon’s statue had been cast: Hillairet, Rues de Paris, I, 510; Geneviève Bresc-Bautier, “Fonderie et ateliers du Roule,” in Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré, ed. Béatrice de Andia and Dominique Fernandès (Paris, 1994), p. 373.

7BF appears not to have accepted this invitation, but WTF evidently did attend. He met there the comte de Diesbach (DBF), to whom he sent a copy of Constitutions des treize Etats-Unis de l’Amérique later in the day: Diesbach to WTF, Jan. 24 and May 5, 1784, APS.

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