French Sculpture 1850-75Carpeaux

Ugolino and His Sons, 1865

Carpeaux Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827-1875) often disagreed with the Academie de France, finding inspiration in Italy and in the work of Michelangelo. The son of a stonemason, Carpeaux took his first art classes in Valenciennes, and went on to Paris supported by a scholarship to the Petite Ecole and Ecole des Beaux-Arts, studying with Francois Rude. Carpeaux won the Prix de Rome in 1854 and left Paris for Rome two years later in 1856. Carpeaux's masterpiece during this time in Rome was his 'Ugolino and His Sons', based on a passage from Dante's Inferno. Although criticized when unveiled in Paris, it was admired by Napoleon III's director of fine arts, and Carpeaux was assured of his introduction to the aristocracy. He became the sculptor of choice of the imperial family and portraitist of its courtiers. His style was naturalistic and emotionally charged, and was greeted by outcries of those who were accustomed to a more subdued academic vision. In 1860, the 17th century town hall of Valenciennes required reconstruction, and Carpeaux was commissioned to design a frontispiece to commemorate the defense of the young republic against the combined armies of Prussia and Austria. He was at odds with the architect, who would approve and then refuse his designs. Carpeaux had to omit narrative figures in order to reduce the weight, but the symbols of war, industry, and the arts remained.

The City of Valenciennes Defending the Fatherland in 1793, 1869


Napoleon III


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