The busts, reductions in Serevezza marble, represent Jean- Jacques Rousseau and Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon and measure 11½ (29cm) and 11in (28cm) in height. Each is signed and dated, the former houdon f 1788, and the latter houdon f 1789, and both are recorded as being shown at the Paris Salon of 1789.
They were acquired in 1926 from the Paris dealer Paul Gouvert by Irwin B Laughlin (1871-1941). He was an American diplomat who formed an extensive collection of French 18th century drawings while ambassador to Spain from 1929-32, with help from Agnew’s and Comte Enrico Bosdari (known as Henri Brémont), an expert on 18th century drawings.
His collection was preserved by his widow Therese Iselin Laughlin until her death in 1958, when it was inherited by their only child, Gertrude. Much of it was sold in 1959 and some of the remaining drawings were bequeathed to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in 1982.
The two Houdon busts, both of which are recorded in the Frick art reference library in New York, have passed down through Laughlin’s descendants. Each one carries a $15,000-25,000 estimate.