Were it not for the fabulous Auguste Rodin, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (Valenciennes, 1827-1875) would have been the most famous French sculptor of his century. He drew public attention early on in his career with his controversial sculpture The Dance for the facade of Charles Garnier’s Opéra in Paris, a work depicting a lively dance, possibly part of some ancient religious ritual. The detail of the sculpture is such that you can almost imagine the dancers moving as you watch.

Carpeaux studied with École painter Abel de Pujol and fellow-sculptors François Rude and Francisque-Joseph Duret. After winning lesser competitions despite being caught cheating, Carpeaux won the important Prix de Rome in 1854. As a painter, his radical, sketchy canvases do not easily identify themselves with any specific style or movement. With rapid strokes and dark colours he painted atmospheric landscapes, mysterious portraits and dramatic history scenes.

However nowadays Carpeaux is less known for his paintings than for his sculptures, he became well-known with his painting Ugolino, which you can see in the Louvre. Also in that museum, you will find his charming Pêcheur napolitain à la coquille (called Neapolitan Fisherboy in English) and numerous bustes, as well as the paintings Bal costumé aux Tuileries and Les Trois Souverains.

An ambitious entrepreneur even as a student (a flagrant violation of the academic policy forbidding commerce), Carpeaux produced serial works throughout his career. With this he provided an alternative to prevailing norms for artists of his time and thereafter. Critics accused him of shameless ambition for seeking constant public exposure. Carpeaux's influence can be seen in the work of the later luminaries like Aimé-Jules Dalou. It is especially clear however in the theories and art of Auguste Rodin himself, his student at the Petite École.

For part of this info I thank the National Gallery of Art (Washington DC) and the Van Gogh Museum (Amsterdam).

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.