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Carpeaux Exhibition Sculptures


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Why you will love it?

Carpeaux, A Sculptor for the Empire, is an exhibition held at the magnificent Musée d’Orsay and explores the successes and disappointments of the 19th Century sculptor, painter and illustrator, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, in particular through his drawings and sketches. Enjoy! Parisianist

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About this place

1 Rue de la Légion d'Honneur, 75007 Paris
Line 12 - Assemblée Nationale / Solférino
Line C - Musée d'Orsay

Monday : Closed
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Monday : Closed Tuesday : 9:30 am - 18:00 pm Wednesday : 9:30 am - 18:00 pm Thursday : 9:30 am - 18:00 pm Friday : 9:30 am - 18:00 pm Saturday : 9:30 am - 18:00 pm Sunday : 9:30 am - 18:00 pm

Our Insiders' Article


Carpeaux. A Sculptor for the Empire portrays theworks of sculptor and portraitist Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, whose career was tainted by a general misunderstanding by certain groups of people. Born on May 11th, 1827 in Valenciennes, this son of a stonemason and a lace maker had his first taste of success at the age of 30 when he was finally accepted to join the French Academy in Rome. He died in 1875 aged only 48. Most widely known for his sculptures, Carpeaux was also a prolific portraitist. In contrast to his sculptures so full of energy, Carpeaux’s portraits, in particular the many self-portraits he painted, revealed the darker side of his personality.

Parisianist Painful Point: Carpeaux was afflicted with bladder cancer. He communicated this pain and suffering in his self-portraits by painting expressions twisted with agony. 


The exhibition Carpeaux. A Sculptor for the Empire regroups 10 smaller sections that focus on the artist’s greatest creations: Fisherman with Shell, Ugolino, the decorative sculpture for the top of the Pavillon de Flore, the Watteau Fountain, the Dance and The Four Parts of the World. On display, you will see sketches of his creations, shedding light on his sources of inspiration and highlighting his attempts at producing a finished piece finally worthy of widespread appreciation. Carpeaux was nevertheless able to win the favor of Emperor Napoleon III, even though the artist was never named his official statue sculptor. Carpeaux’s work never received the critical acclaim he felt it deserved. 


Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux joined the École des Beaux-Arts in 1844 and signed up to study under Francis Rude, a notable personality in Romanticism. It then took 7 attempts before he was accepted to the French Academy in Rome. Indifferent to the Holy Scriptures and Greek Mythology, Carpeaux struggled to fit into the mold here. His first successful submission, the Fisherman with Shell, was heavily inspired by the Italian landscape and the works of Michelangelo, as were many of his early creations. While working on his final submission, the formidably intense sculpture of Ugolino, Carpeaux bucked the trend once again by not respecting the rules set by the French Academy in Rome.

Parisianist Fun Fact: it was Francis Rude who sculpted the Marseillaise frieze on the Arc de Triomphe

Public Monuments

Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux received many commissions that he was never actually able to finish because his ideas were often too grand to put into practice. In 1860, he designed a fountain carved in marble as a monument to the painter Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), but was given only plaster to work with. A few years later, Jules-Louis Batigny, architect for the City Hall in Valenciennes, criticized Carpeaux’s pediment saying it jarred with the architectural style of the rest of the building. Then in 1864, Carpeaux was commissioned to create the decorative sculpture for the top of the south façade of the Louvre, the Pavillon de Flore. The architect of the new Louvre, Hector Lefuel, was extremely dissatisfied with Carpeaux’s delays and deemed that the piece did not fit in with the layout of the project. However, once Napoleon III saw the creation in place, he was thrilled and supported Carpeaux’s work, thus making him famous.

Parisianist Fun Fact: The Emperor is said to have named Carpeaux’s creation by proclaiming, “that truly is the triumph of Flora!” 

Imperial Court

Despite his lack of widespread appreciation, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux was a particular favorite of the Imperial couple. So much so, Empress Eugenie acquired the two marble sculptures of Fisherman with Shell and Young Girl with Shell. Carpeaux obtained permission to sculpt the Prince Imperial alongside the Emperor’s dog. The figure, which was produced in various materials and sizes, turned out to be an extremely successful propaganda item. Never actually named as the official statue sculptor, Carpeaux produced numerous portraits of the Imperial family, as well as a statue of the Virgin Mary that bore a striking resemblance to the Empress. Fascinated by the sumptuous receptions held at the Imperial Court, Carpeaux’s produced many paintings inspired by these events. 


It is the exceptional warmth of his extremely life-like portraits that earned Carpeaux his rank as one of the greats. Inspired by 18th Century French sculpture, he revolutionized an unpopular genre, which was generally viewed as subsistence work. Carpeaux brought his busts to life by including the arms and working on the facial expression, which he often set with a smile. The portrait of the Marquise de La Valette assured his reputation as one of the best portraitists of his time to operate in the highest circles of Parisian society. 


Charles Garnier called upon Carpeaux to produce one of the four groups of figures on the façade of the Opera Garnier. Although the architect accepted Carpeaux’s idea of a group of daring bacchantes dancing around a central spirit, when the piece was put on display, the public was so shocked by its realism and nudity that one night, someone threw a bottle of ink over the sculpture. Equally, when Baron Haussmann commissioned Carpeaux to design a sculpture for the Fontaine de l’Observatoire located in the Jardin de Luxembourg, the public widely criticized The Four Parts of the World claiming the figures to be a tangled mess of nude women.

Parisianist Fun Fact:if you look carefully at thefoot of the statue representing Africa in The Four Parts of the World you will notice a small detail hinting that Carpeaux supported the abolition of slavery – Africa is wearing a broken chain around her ankle. Look a little further and you will see that it is America standing on that very same chain of slavery.


For those who are passionate about 19th Century art, the Musée d’Orsay will not leave you unsatisfied! Carpeaux. A Sculptor for the Empire explores the career of this ill-fated artist constantly veering between enthusiasm and despondency. The architecture of this former train station allows you to navigate easily through the outstanding collection at the Musée d’Orsay,which covers movements such as impressionism, symbolism and neoclassicism. 

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