Friday, August 19, 2011

Voltaire in a Field

It may be hard to believe, but this famous sculpture of Voltaire by the esteemed artist Jean-Antoine Houdon was found tossed in  a cow pasture.  A pasture just outside Monticello no less!

When Houdon sculpted Voltaire in 1778 the racy philosopher had just returned to Paris after another lengthy exile.  It would turn out to be a quite timely modeling since Voltaire expired a mere two months afterward.  The finished sculpture received the highest of praise for its realism and for capturing the essence of Voltaire.  I imagine that sly, smug little smile graced Voltaire's lips plenty of times.  Due to the sculpture's popularity, Houdon experimented with recreating it in different mediums and styles; adding Voltaire's famous wig to the original's nude ancient Roman style.

One of these Voltaire busts found itself in Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello.  The bust was in the the entrance hall to greet guests as they entered the house.  After Jefferson's death Monticello, which was never fully finished, fell into disrepair.  The home's next owner James Barlcay is rumored to be the one whom we can blame for placing Voltaire portraits in field.  Rumor has it that Barclay, a rather unEnlightened individual born in the 19th century, saw the bust, declared Voltaire to be an "antichrist" and flung it into the field.  I'm sure Voltaire would be flattered to know he still has the ability to ruffle feathers fifty years after his death.

8 comments:

janiceb said...

I love starting the day with amusing anecdotes from history! Thanks for your blog, Heather!

Heather Carroll said...

It's the best way to start your day! :)

PuppyLovePrincess said...

what a fantastic story :)

LOVE your blog!

Heather Carroll said...

Thank you so much!

aurora said...

I have stumbled upon your blog by pure accident. I have to say it I love it! Thank you, Heather!

Heather Carroll said...

So glad you stumbled upon it, I hope to see you around more!

nokomarie said...

I very much wish I had found that bust in a field than the dusty plaster bust of Dewy Decimal I found in my parents basement. Much better sculpture for one thing.

Heather Carroll said...

Maybe next time you come across the Dewey Decimal bust you should call it an antichrist and toss it just for dramatic effect!