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The best-known likeness of the man who would be elected president in 1800, this bust captures the keen intelligence of the sitter and demonstrates Houdon's superb talent for characterization. In 1785 Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) succeeded Benjamin Franklin as American minister to France. Jefferson immersed himself in the artistic and cultural life of Paris, studying firsthand neoclassical architecture and actively collecting books, prints, and works of art. Houdon, described by Jefferson as "perhaps the foremost artist in the world," executed this startlingly lifelike bust in Paris shortly before Jefferson returned to the United States to assume the position of secretary of state.

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