Le Chinois (Bust Of A Chinese Man, 2nd Version)
Signed JB. Carpeaux.
Stamped with the eagle cachet PROPRIETÉ CARPEAUX
With the pastille BY APPOINTMENT TO THE QUEEN / BELLMAN, IVEY & CARTER / NEW BOND ST / LONDON / MADE IN FRANCE. With plaque CHINOIS BY CARPEAUX
Bronze with red, dark and light brown patina
Height: 13 3/4" (35 cm)
Conceived 1872 and cast circa 1880
The present work is one of Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux’s most celebrated sculptures, Le Chinois (Bust of a Chinese man). The piece was originally conceived in 1868, when the sculptor was commissioned by Georges-Eugène Haussmann to create a work to adorn Gabriel Davioud’s fountain at the Observatory in the Luxembourg Gardens, Paris. The group Le Quatre Parties du Monde (Four Parts of the World) was placed at the top of the fountain in 1874 and can still be seen there today. The plaster version of the monument is on permanent display at the Musée d’Orsay.
J.B. Carpeaux, Fontaine des Quatres Parties du Monde, ca 1874, plaster, Musée d’Orsay, Paris
The Chinois relates to the allegorical representation of Asia, which forms part of the fountain together with America, Europe and Africa. The first sketch for the sculpture dates to 1868 and represents a male bust which the artist created with wide impressionistic strokes. The gender of the figure was later changed to fit the monument’s iconography.
J.B. Carpeaux, Le Chinois (1st Version), conceived 1868, terracotta, private collection (ex Bowman Sculpture)
By singling out the subject of his sculptural group, Carpeaux forces the viewer to engage with the Chinese man’s gaze, which is cast to one side. The artist paid painstaking attention to the definition of the figure’s features, which have been considered by critics as his most successful essay in portraiture. Such a sophisticated rendition of the Chinese man’s facial traits is reminiscent of Charles Cordier’s ethnographic sculpture, which received much attention in France from the second half of the 19th century.
The artist understood the model’s potential on the market, producing terracotta, marble and bronze versions of both the first sketch and the finished male bust in his Auteuil atelier in 1872. The latter was produced in two different sizes, 68cm and 35cm. After Carpeaux’s death in 1875, the edition was then continued posthumously by the family of the artist, featuring in the Emile Colin’s foundry catalogue between 1882-1898.
In the present sculpture, the eagle cachet and the ‘proprieté Carpeaux’ stamp testify to the authenticity of the cast. This likely reached England as early as 1892, when it was acquired by the London firm Bellman, Ivey and Carter (active 1892-1905). The firm acted as marble carvers, bronze restorers and art dealers for Queen Victoria, Edward VII and George V. The round pastille that appears at the back of the bronze state their Royal warrant of appointment, their location in Bond Street and the authenticity of the bronze, proudly stating its continental origin.
In the present model, not only do the markings attest to the rarity of the object, but so does its patination, whose earth tones highlight the quality of the modelling of the figure’s face and blouse, displaying Carpeaux’s mastery of the sculpted medium.