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Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux

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Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux

1827 - 1875

The son and grandson of stonemasons, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux was born in 1827 in Valenciennes and moved to Paris at the age of eleven. Beginning in the early 1840s he studied at the Petite Ecole, the state school for training in the applied arts, formally called the Ecole Gratuite de Dessin, before entering the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1844, where he changed masters repeatedly, oscillating between typical student ambition (optimal credentials for the Prix de Rome) and his interest in more liberal approaches. Carpeaux moved from Ecole painter Abel de Pujol (1785-1861), to the independent sculptor FranÐ*ois Rude, and finally to the prestigious Ecole sculptor Francisque-Joseph Duret (1804-1865). After winning lesser competitions--despite being caught cheating--Carpeaux was awarded the Prix de Rome in 1854, but outstanding imperial commissions and illness delayed his departure until 1856.

Once in Rome Carpeaux intensified his reputation as institutional bad boy, canny professional maneuverer, and provocative artist. As a pensionnaire he battled repeatedly with the Villa Medici authorities and flouted Ecole policy. Yet his major envois--the Neapolitan Fisherboy and multi-figural Ugolino (both begun 1857)--introduced his name in Paris and provided the artistic and commercial germs for his entire life. His pre-eminence, as the star among emerging sculptors, was established at the Salon of 1863, where he exhibited finished versions of those two works as well as his new state portrait bust of the emperor's powerful cousin, Princess Mathilde, which earned him a first-class medal.

He entered the imperial circle in 1864 as artistic tutor to the Prince Imperial, and executed the boy's bust and full-scale portrait statue for the prince's parents (both mid-1860s, marble; Musйe d'Orsay, Paris). He also received some of the most significant monumental commissions of the period: the architectural decoration of the Pavillon de Flore of the Palais du Louvre (1863-1866, Imperial France Enlightening the World and the Triumph of Flora); and The Dance (1865-1869) for the facade of the Paris Opйra. His native Valenciennes commissioned several public projects between 1860 and 1884, including a monument to another of its native artists, Antoine Watteau (1684-1721).

This extraordinary activity was interrupted by the upheavals after the fall of the Second Empire and by Carpeaux's increasing frailty with cancer. He executed some smaller figures and portraits upon commission and completed his monumental projects in Paris (1868-1874, Observatory Fountain, Jardin du Luxembourg). He mainly focused on amassing income through commercial edition, hoping to recoup his devastating financial losses from those projects and from the war. Estranged from his family, Carpeaux spent the last two years of his life traveling, in the care of patrons, and in clinics. He died in 1875.

An ambitious entrepreneur even as an Ecole student--a flagrant violation of the academic policy forbidding commerce--Carpeaux produced serial works throughout his career. Most were reductions or spinoffs of his Salon figures, public monuments, or celebrated portraits. They emerged in a variety of materials, dimensions,



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