Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827-1875) was a famous French sculptor and painter during the Second Empire under Napoleon III.
He was born on May 14, 1827 in Valenciennes. He was the son of a stonemason, whose family lived in poverty. At the age of 15 he went to Paris.
Carpeaux entered the École des Beaux-Arts in 1844 and won the Prix de Rome in 1854, and moving to the Italian capital to find inspiration, he there studied the works of Michelangelo, Donatello and Verrocchio.
In 1854 Carpeaux took part at an exhibition at the “Académie française” and got honoured by the “Prix de Rome”. This price was founded in the 17th century and was a scholarship. The scholarship allowed the student to study in Rome for several years because the price included financial aid.
Staying there from 1854 to 1861, he obtained a taste for movement and spontaneity, which he joined with the great principles of baroque art. There he created, among many other works, his magnum opus, Ugolino and his sons, a figure group in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, based on Dante`s Inferno (with versions in other museums including the Musée d`Orsay, Paris).
While being a student, Carpeaux submitted a plaster version of Pêcheur napolitain à la coquille, the Neapolitan Fisherboy, to the French Academy. He carved the marble version several years later, showing it in the Salon exhibition of 1863. It was purchased for Napoleon III`s empress, Eugènie.
In 1862 he finally came back to France, where he lived until he died. Back in France the artist opened up his first own studio and created a bust of the princess Mathilde in 1863 and Girl with Shell in 1864.
Because he made another statue – a statue of the imperial princess – he obtained attention by the Royal court who wanted him to execute an order for the “Flora-Pavillon” of the Louvre. He was supposed to design this pavilion and created The Triumph of Flora. The sculpture La Danse / The Dance is mentioned as the main work of the artist Carpeaux.
Carpeaux`s relief is still well-preserved at the front of the ground floor of the new opera house of Paris; even the relief got attacked during the night on August 27, 1869 by an excited passant with a little inkpot. But it was luckily possible to clean the relief of the great artist and sculptor Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, who died on October 12, 1875 in Courbevoie near Paris.