Neapolitan Fisherboy (Pêcheur napolitain Ã la coquille)
Signed: Carpeaux and inscribed PROPRIÃ‰TÃ‰ CARPEAUX
Bronze with a rich light brown patination on a green marble base
Height: 14 inches (36 cm)
Conceived in 1857. This bronze cast after 1875
The son of a stone mason, Jean Baptiste Carpeaux was born in Valenciennes on May 11th 1827. He was the eldest of five children and initially received instruction at the Ecole des Freres in Valenciennes and at the local Academie de Peinture et Sculpture. In the late 1830’s the family moved to Paris and in 1842 Carpeaux commenced two years working in a drawing school prior to being admitted to the Ecole des Beaux Arts, studying under Rude from 1844 to 1850. Though greatly influenced by Rude’s approach to naturalism in sculpture, he deliberately cut adrift from his master in 1850. Rude’s students were almost always denied the most sought after prizes and commissions that would help forward their careers, as many academicians found his teaching methods and politics too controversial.
Hopeful of winning the Prix de Rome within two years he left Rude to work under Francisque Duret but it took him until 1854 to win the coveted award with his statue of Hector bearing in his arms his son Astyanax. Following in the tradition of the winners Carpeaux enrolled at the French Academy in Rome, where he soon fell under the spell of Donatello and Michelangelo. The influence of these great masters can be seen in Carpeaux’s passionate sculpture of 1863, Ugolino and his Sons, which established his reputation as the leading Romantic sculptor in France when exhibited at the Salon that year. Thereafter he secured many important State commissions for public statutory, as well as private commissions to sculpt the portraits of noteable members of society.
Carpeaux began work on the original plaster model in 1857 while he was studying in Rome. 91cm in height, it was exhibited at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1858 and is now part of the collection at the Museé de Valenciennes. It was first cast in bronze in 1859 and displayed at the Paris Salon where it was awarded a prize and bought by Baron James de Rothschild. The marble version was first exhibited at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1861 and again at the Salon of 1863 where it was purchased by the Emperor Napoleon III as a gift for the Empress. Its popularity and acclaim encouraged Carpeaux to reproduce many versions of the subject in bronze, marble and terracotta.
The present model is a slightly later variation on the original model and incorporates a fish-net draped over the lap of the young boy. The vitality of both the pose and facial expression, distinguish it as one of Carpeaux’s most accomplished works. A particularly impressive feature is the variation in the texture of the sculpture. It ranges from the smooth face, shoulders and body of the boy through the stylized, yet animated curls of the hair to the cloth of the cap. There is a close resemblance between the young fisher boy’s cap and the Phrygian caps that appear on ancient Greek statues. Despite this historical reference, this vivacious figure is undoubtedly drawn from real life and is recorded as being inspired by sketches made during a brief holiday in Naples. This combination of classical and contemporary imagery is typical of Carpeaux’s oeuvre, where idealized, timeless forms are combined with an actuality and vitality.