About this artwork

John Paul Jones, the most celebrated naval hero of the American Revolution, was born in Dumfriesshire. In 1775 he was commissioned a lieutenant in the fledgling American navy. While visiting Paris in 1778 for the signing of the Franco-American treaty Jones stayed with Benjamin Franklin and became a member of the masonic ‘Loge des Neuf Soeurs’. It was this lodge that commissioned Houdon in 1780 to sculpt his marble bust (exhibited at the Salon the following year) after Jones’s victories over the British navy made him a celebrity. Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741-1828) is generally considered to have been the greatest sculptor in Europe during the Enlightenment.

Jean Antoine Houdon

Jean Antoine Houdon

Houdon is generally considered to have been the greatest sculptor in Europe during the Enlightenment making his name with the portrait bust. His gallery of subjects included portraits from the royal family to heroes of the day. Critics praised his busts for being able to stand out from the crowd, "M. Houdon lacks only the means to make his portraits speak, since, as for likeness, he lacks nothing." He took great care to portray his subjects accurately employing a rigorous system of measurements. This was later demonstrated when the dimensions of the exhumed skull of John Paul Jones was found to be identical to Houdon’s bust.