Bust of John Paul Jones

French (Paris)
Jean-Antoine Houdon (French, 1741–1828)

Object Place: Europe, Paris, France


Overall: 71.1 x 47 x 33 cm (28 x 18 1/2 x 13 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View





One of the original casts taken from Houdon’s plaster model. See 03.1020. Plaster, with marble socle and bone dowel.

A hero of the American Revolution, John Paul Jones (1747-1792) was called to Paris in 1779 to command the French frigate Bonhomme Richard, with which he won a famous naval victory over the British vessel Serapis. The Masonic lodge of the “Nine Sisters” in Paris, to which both Houdon and Jones belonged, commissioned this bust in 1780, in celebration of the victory. The bust shows Jones in the uniform of an admiral, wearing the cross (indicating the title of chevalier) which he had received from King Louis XVI. Jones ordered about twenty plaster versions of the original bust to give to important political figures and friend; this one was a gift to Thomas Jefferson.


Signed and dated "houdon f. 1780" under left shoulder


1786, given by the sitter to Thomas Jefferson (b. 1743 - d. 1826) [see note 1]; by descent within the family to Joseph Coolidge, Jr. (b. 1798 - d. 1879); January 17, 1828, deposited by Coolidge at the Boston Athenaeum [see note 2]; after 1867, probably lent by the Athenaeum to Moses Kimball (b. 1809 - d. 1895) at the Boston Museum theater [see note 3]. By 1910, Charles H. Taylor, Jr., Boston [see note 4]; 1931, gift of Taylor to the MFA. (Accession Date: October 8, 1931)

[1] See Anne L. Poulet, Jean-Antoine Houdon: Sculptor of the Enlightenment (National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2003), p. 254. This is one of sixteen plaster casts -- taken from the bust of Jones that had been commissioned in 1780 by the masonic Lodge of the Nine Sisters, Paris -- made for his friends and associates. This bust bears the date of the original commission.

[2] Joseph Coolidge had married Jefferson's granddaughter.

[3] According to Mabel Munson Swan, The Athenaeum Gallery, 1827-1873: The Boston Athenaeum as an Early Patron of Art (1940), pp. 166-167, the Athenaeum has no record of the bust after 1867. It may have been lent to the theater of the Boston Museum (not identical to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), which was founded by Moses Kimball in 1841, and which opened a theater in 1843 and a playhouse in 1846. According to Swan, "its arrival [at the theater] may have been due to a reputed custom of the Boston Museum during the 1860s and 1870s of borrowing busts for stage properties." The Boston Museum closed in 1903.

[4] According to Swan 1940 (as above, n. 3), the bust -- along with other property belonging to Moses Kimball -- was sold at auction in May 1903 to a second-hand store, which then sold the bust to Taylor. However, according to notes in the MFA curatorial file (September 5, 1939), Patrick J. Kyle (b. 1854 - d. 1929) is said to have bought the bust from the Boston Museum theater and then given it to Taylor. Taylor first lent it to the MFA in 1910.

Credit Line

Gift of Charles H. Taylor, Jr.