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Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827-1875) was one of the greatest artists of the French Second Empire period, during which time France was ruled by Napoleon III. Working as a painter and a sculptor, Carpeaux's creations were hugely popular during his lifetime, and he was commissioned by European royalty and nobility.
Born in Valenciennes in France, Carpeaux entered the École des Beaux-Arts in 1844 and won the Prix de Rome in 1854. This enabled the young artist to move to Rome, where he studied the works of Michelangelo, Donatello and Verrocchio. Carpeaux remained in Rome until 1861, developing and refining his artistic style. He developed a preference for capturing elements of movement, naturalism and spontaneity in his works, which he combined with the traditional principles of high Baroque art. In a similar departure from the Classical tradition, Carpeaux chose to depict everyday scenes and people, which he observed from his surroundings. The result was the creation of innovative and impressive paintings and sculptures, rendered in a style that marked Carpeaux apart from his contemporaries.
While still a student in Rome, Carpeaux submitted a plaster version of what would become one of his most famous works, Pêcheur napolitain à la coquille, ('Neapolitan Fisherboy with a shell'), to the French Academy. Several years later, he carved the marble version and exhibited it at the Parisian Salon in 1863, where the work was purchased by Napoleon III's empress, Eugénie. The statue of the young fisherboy, and its subsequent purchase by Empress Eugénie, instantly propelled Carpeaux into international fame and critical acclaim, and resulted in numerous commissions from European royalty. For example, Carpeaux made a bust of Princess Mathilde, which resulted in several further commissions from Emperor Napoleon III.
In 1866, after being awarded the chevalier of the Legion of Honour, Carpeaux established his own bronze foundry in order to create a large number of works on a grander scale. Today, Carpeaux's creations continue to be very highly prized, and are held in prestigious museums and private collections across the world.