Jean-Antoine Houdon studied in Paris under such sculptors as Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne and Jean-Baptiste Pigalle. As a winner of the Prix de Rome, he worked in Rome from 1764 to 1768. There he was influenced by ancient artifacts, including those recently unearthed in Herculaneum and Pompeii, and works of Renaissance masters, especially Michelangelo. He created his important anatomical study of a standing man, known as the Écorché, or "flayed" figure, which later was replicated and used in most art schools. The Écorché displays a continuing characteristic of his art: classicism combined with a merciless realism.
Skilled in marble, bronze, plaster, and clay, Houdon became a member of the Académie Royale in 1771 and a professor in 1778. He made his reputation with his portraits, producing a veritable "Who's Who" of his era's royalty, artists, and philosophers. Patrons appreciated his ability to give marble the effect of living flesh as well as his knack for capturing his sitter's personality. In 1785, at the request of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, Houdon crossed the Atlantic. He spent fourteen days at Mount Vernon executing a statue of George Washington. After narrowly escaping imprisonment during the French Revolution, Houdon returned to favor under Napoleon Bonaparte and finally retired in 1814.