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Fervently fixed in stone.

"THE PASSIONS of Jean Baptiste Carpeaux" is a major retrospective that will explore the life and work of the exceptionally gifted, deeply tormented sculptor who defined the heady atmosphere of the Second Empire in France (1852-71). The first full-scale exhibition in 38 years devoted to Carpeaux, it will feature about 160 works, including sculptures, paintings, and drawings, which will be organized around the major projects that the artist undertook during his brief and stormy career.

Carpeaux is best known today for a single masterpiece, "Ugolino and His Sons," yet he was a multifaceted and prolific artist. A sculptor of emotion, both grand and intimate, he was drawn to extremes from Michelangelo to Jean-Antoine Watteau while retaining respectful admiration for his peers in French sculpture.

A precursor of Auguste Rodin and a host of other early modern sculptors, he imbued his work with strong movement and visceral drive. He strove for anatomical realism in all media, but especially in his marble sculptures and busts, which seem to capture flesh and blood in stone.

This exhibition will evoke the ambitious public monuments he created through groupings of drawings and vibrant preliminary clay models and will trace the evolution of such masterpieces in marble as "Ugolino and his Sons" and the "Prince Imperial with his Dog Nero."

Carpeaux sketched his surroundings constantly and had a genius for portraiture. Ravishing portraits of celebrities and friends, as well as wrenching ones of himself and his wife Amelie, will be on view along with poignant drawings of an astonishing variety of subjects and techniques. His dramatic, highly independent paintings, barely known during his lifetime, also will be on display.

The exhibit will probe overlooked works to reveal not only the darkness and despair of his troubled existence, but his cruelty towards his wife. Carpeaux, who was plagued by serious physical maladies and violent mood swings throughout his life, died at age 48 in 1875. He was, however, extraordinarily productive, compiling a vast body of work sustained at the highest level of quality.

Carpeaux was born in 1827 in Valenciennes, France (also the birthplace of Watteau), the son of a mason and a lacemaker. He was accepted into the renowned Ecole des BeauxArts in 1844 where he worked fervently to win the prestigious Prix de Rome. Carpeaux finally won the prize for sculpture in 1854, then in 1856 moved to Rome, where he found inspiration in classical antiquities and the Italian masters, especially the works of Michelangelo. "Ugolino and His Sons," rendering a scene from Dante's "Divine Comedy," was completed in plaster in 1861, the last year of his residence at the French Academy in Rome. It created a sensation and brought Carpeaux many commissions. Upon his return to France, "Ugolino" was cast in bronze at the order of the French Ministry of Fine Arts and exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1863.

The marble version in this exhibition was completed in time for the 1867 Universal Exposition at Paris. Various preparatory sketches of "Ugolino" in different media will be on display along with the monumental marble.

Upon his return to Paris, Carpeaux established himself in artistic and society circles and was appointed the art tutor of the only son of Emperor Napoleon HI and his wife Eugenie, Eugene-Louis-Jean-Joseph Napoleon, the Prince Imperial. Carpeaux proposed to the Emperor and his wife a portrait of the young Prince Imperial and created a standing portrait in marble that shows the boy, about eight years old, with the Emperor's dog Nero, a gift from the Russian ambassador.

The portrait of the crown prince rapturously was received and reproduced in different sizes and media such as bronze, plaster, terracotta, and biscuit. Even after the fall of the Empire and the early tragic death of the crown prince--who was killed in 1879 at age 23 by the Zulus--the Sevres porcelain factory continued to sell his portrait under the title "Boy with a Dog."

In 1863, Charles Gamier, the architect of the new Paris Opera, commissioned four sculpted groups by four artists to decorate the facade of the building. Carpeaux's group celebrates the theme of dance. Over a three-year period, he produced hundreds of sketches and models before deciding upon a composition of naked women encircling the spirit of dance. When "The Dance" was unveiled, it caused a scandal; the public was so shocked by its realism that it was proclaimed pornographic. A bottle of ink was thrown against the sculpture and its removal from the Paris Opera was demanded. However, the war of 1870 and the fall of the Second Republic, followed by the death of Carpeaux, eventually put an end to the controversy. Today "The Dance" is considered one of the 19th century's epic works.

"The Passions of Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux" will be on view March 10-May 26 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
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Title Annotation:Focus on Art
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Mar 1, 2014
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