The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Bust of Madame Victoire de France
  • Jean Antoine Houdon (1741 - 1828)
  • Bust of Madame Victoire de France
  • France
  • 1777
  • Bust
  • Marble
  • Height: 78.8 cm
  • Signature: A. HOUDON FECIT, 1777.
  • S25
  • Dining Room
Further Reading
  • This portrait of Madame Victoire de France (1733–1799), one of the daughters of Louis XV, was made by the great sculptor Antoine Houdon. A perfect example of Houdon at his most decorative, the bust presents the princess at middle age and, without resorting to flattery, brilliantly succeeds in conveying the sense of prestige required of a royal portrait.

    Born into a humble family, Houdon manifested great artistic talent from a young age. He won the opportunity to train at the French Academy in Rome where he was from 1764 to 1768. Here he studied anatomy on dissected bodies (a practice that gave him a superior anatomical knowledge that would prove invaluable in his work, particularly as a portrait artist) and absorbed the lesson of classical sculpture which would strongly influence him throughout his career.

    Mme Victoire was famously portrayed by Jean-Marc Nattier (1685-1766) in a series of paintings depicting her and her sisters as personifications of the four elements (today in the Museu de Arte in São Paulo). Admired for her morality and piety, after the Revolution, she was forced to flee to Italy and died in exile.

    The two portrait busts of Mme Victoire and her sister Mme Adelaïde (today at the Louvre), were commissioned from Houdon in 1777, after a very successful exhibition at the Salon where he displayed over 30 works in various materials (among which were 15 portraits). Despite being accepted by the sitters, for Houdon it proved extremely difficult to obtain payment for the portraits and it was only thanks to the Surintendent des Bâtiments du roi, the Comte d’Angiviller, that he was finally compensated in 1785.

    Made for a member of the royal family, this bust is naturally more formal and traditional in character, but the very fine details (for example in the treatment of the lace on the Princess’ bodice) and the general attitude of the sitter radiate a sense of confidence clearly deriving from her high status.