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Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux

(1827 Valenciennes – 1875 Courbevoie)

Buste de jeune fille. Etching on Japanese paper. 16.8 x 11.8 cm. 1860. Delteil 5.

While Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux’s place in art history may be attributed principally to the outstanding career he enjoyed as the pre-eminent sculptor of the Second French Empire, his paintings – which often appear incomplete and more like oil sketches than finished pictures – and his numerous drawings also document his keen sense of light, colour and movement. The few etchings Delteil recorded were probably made by the artist for his own recreation and are experimental in nature. The present Portrait of a Young Girl dates to 1860 shortly after Carpeaux’s return from Italy. The young girl with the high forehead, pronounced nose and slightly receding chin has been portrayed in profile against a neutral background. Nothing is idealised in this portrait, which has an air of melancholy and existential loneliness about it. The linework moves from the profile, which has been rendered in a very concentrated manner and is emphasised by dark hatching, across the back of the head and neck, becoming freer and more fluid in the process, before it ultimately dissolves into abstract flourishes and scrawls. This enigmatic portrait bearing the inscription “Carpeaux inv et fecit 1860” was classified by Delteil as “très rare”. The copper plate was destroyed after the printing. A very fine, tonal impression with wide margins. From the collection of François Heugel (Lugt 3373).

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