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Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, the son of a stonemason and a lace maker from Valenciennes, built an exceptional career closely linked to the “fête impériale” of Napoleon III’s reign.
Standing out vividly in the artistic milieu of his time, he was also one of the most perfect embodiments of the Romantic idea of the artist cursed by the brevity and brilliance of his career, concentrated into around fifteen years, and by the violence and the passion of an unrelenting struggle with subjects chosen or commissioned (the Pavillon de Flore in the Louvre, The Dance for Charles Garnier’s Opera).
The sculptor of smiling subjects, painter of movement, outstanding portraitist, familiar artist of the Cour des Tuileries, attentive observer of the realities of street life and also a sensitive admirer of Michelangelo, Carpeaux was constantly immersed in sombre melancholy, using broad brushstrokes from his earliest days, for the tragedy of Ugolin eating his own children, and, later, for the ghostly flashes of a religious feeling imbued with anxiety, the violence of shipwreck scenes and for sorrowful self-portraits.
The first retrospective since 1975 devoted to his works as a sculptor, painter and illustrator, this exhibition will explore the varied work of a major figure of French sculpture in the second half of the 19th century who, according to Alexandre Dumas, was “more alive than life itself”.