Jean Antoine Houdon (French, 1741–1828)
H. with base 13 1/2 in. (44.5 cm), H. without base 10 13/16 in. (27.5 cm)
Bequest of Mary Stillman Harkness, 1950 (50.145.66)
Among all of Houdon's beloved depictions of children, the most beautiful may be the head of his own daughter Sabine, portrayed at the age of ten months. The fashionable Enlightenment interest in innocence and childhood created a vogue for children's busts, which Houdon produced in quantity (including several of his three daughters at various ages). But images of babies this young are rare and, aside from the plaster model in the Louvre, no other versions of this model are known. The marble has been most lovingly worked—the delicate naturalistic folds of flesh at the intersection of Sabine's chest and arms are carved with a melting softness that perfectly captures the limpid fragility of infant skin. Her alert gaze and unsentimentaliized features present a personality whose distinction transcends the category.