HOUDON, Jean-Antoine

Versailles, Yvelines 1741 - Paris 1828

Aymard-Jean de Nicolay (1709-1785), Premier Président de la Chambre des Comptes

Aymard-Jean de Nicolay (1709-1785), First President of the Chambre des Comptes




Dimensions (HxWxD): 35 12 x 29 18; without pedestal: H. 31 38 in.

signed and dated in the truncation at left: F[AIT].P[AR]. HOUDON EN 1779
inscribed at right: MESSIRE AYMARD JEAN NICOLAY P[remi]er. P[résiden]t.

Acc. No.: AP 1991.01

Credit Line: Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas

Photo credit: Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas

© Artist:


  • 1779, Paris, sculpted for Aymard-Jean de Nicolay, marquis de Goussainville [1709-1785]
  • Paris, by descent to Aymard, comte and marquis de Nicolay [b. 1832]
  • Paris and Cannes, his daughter, comtesse de Contades, née Marie de Nicolay [1873-1944], and her husband, comte Gaston de Contades [1866-1953]
  • Paris, their son, comte André Marie Arthur Aymard de Contades [1900-1958]
  • His heirs
  • Paris, Moatti S. A.
  • 1991, purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth


  • Museum's website, 29 April 2010
  • 1964 Réau
    Louis Réau, Houdon : sa vie et son oeuvre, Paris, 1964, vol. I, p. 118 no. 33, 119, 331 ; vol. II, p. 38 no. 168
  • 1975 Arnason
    H.H. Arnason, The Sculptures of Houdon, London, Phaidon, 1975, p. 46, 47, 64, 111 (note 108), fig. 104, plate 44
  • 1991 Murat
    Laure Murat, Grandes demeures de France, photographies de Robert Schezen, Paris, Arthaud, 1991, p. 123 (shows the bust still in the Château de Brissac, in Anjou)
  • 2000 Sister Wendy
    Sister Wendy Beckett, Sister Wendy's American Collection, New York, 2000, p. 218, ill.
  • 2003 Potts
    Kimbell Art Museum: Handbook of the Collection, Editor: Timothy Potts, Director, 2003, p. 108-109, repr.


  • 1779 Paris
    Salon de 1779, Paris, n° 216

    1928 Paris
    Centenaire de Houdon, Paris, Galerie Buvelot, n° 57

Related works

  • Plaster in the Musée du Louvre, Paris (RF 2453, Gift of Louis and Lucien Guiraud, 1936).
    The bust can be seen in the back-ground of two paintings by Boilly showing Houdon's studio and in a portrait (1785) by Roslin of the sitter's son.


  • Museum's website, 29 April 2010:
    In his portraits of the men of letters and nobility of the Enlightenment, Houdon created an entirely new genre, in which he achieved spontaneity and informality of expression without compromising the decorous and elevated presentation of his sitters. His bust of Aymard-Jean de Nicolay, marquis de Goussainville (1709–1785), was exhibited in the Salon of 1779, where it was described as “joining to the most perfect resemblance an elegance and nobility of form.” Nicolay was a member of the noblesse de robe, nobility whose judicial and administrative function dated back to the sixteenth century. As First President of the Chambre des Comptes, he was the senior official at the sovereign court responsible for the royal accounts and for the registration of all laws touching upon the Crown’s domain, a position that had been held by his family since 1506.

    It is in the carving of Nicolay’s face and hair that Houdon’s genius as a portraitist is most fully engaged. The treatment of the eyes is particularly masterful. He first cut out the entire iris, then bored a deeper hole for the pupil, taking care to leave a small fragment of marble to overhang the iris. The effect is a vivacity and mobility of expression that was acclaimed even in the artist’s own time; it was noted that Houdon was perhaps the first sculptor in the history of art who knew how to render eyes.