Houdon, the greatest French neoclassical portrait sculptor, has captured the American inventor's complex character—intelligent, self-assured, energetic, and sensitive—qualified perhaps by the merest trace of discouragement, reflecting the problems with his imperfect experiments, thus far, with submarines and steam-powered ships attempted off the French coast. Fulton's strikingly handsome appearance is reinforced by his austere yet elegant French attire and fashionable hair style. He was thirty-eight, an American living in Paris, when he posed for the celebrated French sculptor.
Houdon portrays Fulton's tenacity through restrained modeling. The choice of Fulton as a subject was consistent with Houdon's admiration of men of science and diplomacy, including such preeminent Americans as Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin.
Artist Jean-Antoine Houdon, French, 1741-1828
  • Robert Fulton
Date ca. 1804
Medium marble
Dimensions Overall (including socle): 28 3/4 × 20 × 12 3/4 inches (73 × 50.8 × 32.4 cm)
Credit Line Gift of Dexter M. Ferry, Jr.
Accession Number 49.23
Department European Sculpture and Dec Arts
On View Era of Revolution S331.2, Level 3 (see map)
Signed Signed, on right shoulder: houdon f. AN XII
Decres Family (La Chapelle Vieille Forêt, France);
P.A. Rockefeller (New York, New York, USA);
Jonce McGurk (New York, New York, USA);
Dexter M. Ferry, Jr.;
1949-present, gift to the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)
Exh. cat., Paris Salon. Paris, 1804, no. 639.

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