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Houdon, among the greatest portraitists in history, may have met the Comte di Cagliostro through the Masonic order, of which both men were prominent members. Cagliostro's persuasive claims to extraordinary healing skills and alchemical powers won him an international following. The sculptor shows him gazing skyward, his lips parted as if in communion with the heavens, suggesting the personality that could persuade devotees of his ability to perform miraculous cures, conduct mystic Egyptian rites, and turn base metals into gold. The collar falling restlessly open was typical of portraits of artists and scholars, while the double chin and straining buttons betray a taste for the opulent life.


on truncated right arm: houdon / f. / 1786. (in script)


Possibly (sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 22-24 November 1826, no. 208, as Un Buste en marbre de Cagliostro par M. Houdon).[1] Sir Richard Seymour-Conway, 4th marquess of Hertford [1800-1870], London and Paris; by inheritance to his illegitimate son, Sir Richard Wallace [1818-1890], London and Paris; by inheritance to his wife, Julie-Amélie-Charlotte Castelnau, Lady Wallace [1819-1897], Paris and London; by bequest to the Wallace's secretary and adviser, Sir John Murray Scott [1847-1912], London and Paris; by bequest to his friend, Josephine Victoria Sackville-West, Lady Sackville [1864-1936], Paris; sold 1914 to (Jacques Seligmann & Cie, Paris and New York);[2] purchased February 1952 by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York;[3] gift 1952 to NGA.

Exhibition History

L'Art au XVIIIe siècle, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 1883-1884, no. 250.
Possibly Exposition de l'art français sous Louis XIV et sous Louis XV, Ecole des beaux-arts, Hôtel de Chimay, Paris, 1888, no. 77.
Cent pastels du XVIIIe siècle et bustes, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 1908, no. 212.
Exhibition of French Art 1200-1900, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1932, no. 1005.
Nineteenth-Century Sculpture, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1974, unnumbered checklist.
The Eye of Thomas Jefferson, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1976, no. 228.


Lemoisne, Paul André. "Exposition de cent pastels et bustes du XVIIIe siècle." Les Arts 82 (October 1908): 2-32, repro.
Schemit, Jean. "Catalogue critique des sculptures." Bulletin de la Société de l'Histoire de l'Art français (1908): 173-175, 357-360, repro.
Giacometti, Georges. Le statuaire Jean-Antoine Houdon: et son époque (1741-1828). 3 vols. Paris, 1919: 2:97-98.
Giacometti, Georges. La vie et l'oeuvre de Houdon. 2 vols. Paris, 1928: 1:26, repro.
Cecil, Robert. "The Remainder of the Hertford and Wallace Collections." The Burlington Magazine 92 (June 1950): 168-172, fig. 19, 24.
Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Collection Acquired by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation 1951-56. Introduction by John Walker, text by William E. Suida and Fern Rusk Shapley. National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1956: 236, no. 95, repro.
Walker, John. "The Nation's Newest Old Masters." The National Geographic Magazine 110, no. 5 (November 1956): 657, repro.
Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 457, repro.
Walker, John, Guy Emerson, and Charles Seymour. Art Treasures for America: An Anthology of Paintings & Sculpture in the Samuel H. Kress Collection. London, 1961: 193, repro. pl. 182-183.
Réau, Louis. Houdon: Sa vie et son oeuvre. Paris, 1964: 27-28, no. 95, repro. pl. XLVI.
Cecil, R.A. "French Eighteenth Century Sculpture formerly in the Hertford-Wallace Collection." Apollo 81 (June 1965): 449-459, repro.
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 158.
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 140, repro.
Middeldorf, Ulrich. Sculptures from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: European Schools XIV-XIX Century. London, 1976: 111.
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 645, no. 1015, repro.
Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1994: 109, repro.
Stafford, Barbara Maria. Artful Science: Enlightenment Entertainment and the Eclipse of Visual Education. Cambridge, MA, 1994: repro. 124.
Craske, Matthew. Art in Europe 1700-1830: A History of the Visual Arts in an Era of Unprecedented Urban Economic Growth. Oxford, 1997: repro.
Norman Herz, Katherine A. Holbrow and Shelley G. Sturman. "Marble Sculture in the National Gallery of Art: a Provenance Study." In Max Schvoerer, ed. Archéomatériaux: marbres et autres roches: ASMOSIA IV, Bordeaux, France 9-13 october 1995: actes de la IVème Conférence international de l’Association pour l’étude des marbres et autres roches utilizes dans le passé. Talence, 1999: 101-110.
Houdon: Sculpteur des Lumières. Exh. cat. Musée National du Château de Versailles, France; National Gallery of Art, Washington; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 2003: 125, repro.
Poulet, Anne L. Jean-Antoine Houdon: Sculptor of the Enlightenment. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Musée et domaine national du château de Versailles. Washington, D.C., 2003: 123-126, no. 14.
Scherf, Guilhem. Houdon 1741-1828: Statues, portraits, sculptés... Paris, 2006: n. 19.
De Margerie, Laure. French Sculpture: An American Passion. Ghent, 2023: 251, fig. 12, 252.

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