COSTUME BALL AT THE TUILERIES PALACE
Artist(s) : CARPEAUX Jean-Baptiste
1867. More than 7 million visitors came to see the Exposition universelle, and for the occasion Paris glittered like a diamond tiara. The sovereigns and elite of the whole world flocked to the festivities organised by the imperial regime. The celebrations were incessant. The journalist Henri Rochefort noted with irony that: «Paris, which people have described as the head of France, has become today no more than its legs». Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, a sculptor close to the imperial family, went to many of the balls and official receptions as an observer of this glitzy demi-monde. And he painted for himself a series of small paintings in which he revealed himself to be just as virtuosic a painter as a sculptor. He himself said of painting: “I love this art passionately, I can express myself better than through my beloved sculpture”.
Carpeaux painted several versions of the imperial couple at the grand balls at the Tuileries Palace: the entry of the Empress Eugénie on the arm of the Tsar Alexander II and, as here, that of Napoleon III accompanying an unknown beauty, whom legend had it was the Comtesse de Castiglione, the most famous of the emperor’s mistresses. The fact is, however, that in 1867 this relationship had long been over, thus the identification of the lady remains uncertain. Never exhibited during Carpeaux’s lifetime, these small painted studies are remarkably (and eerily) evocative of the superficial glamour of the epoch.
Whilst the composition of the painting is completely classical, the execution of the work is very free and sketchlike. The figures in the foreground are merely silhouettes, done with rapid brush strokes; the figure of the emperor however is immediately recogniseable. The rest of the ensemble is done with brisk strokes, brilliantly rendering the effervescence of the crowd. The scene is bathed in a beautiful golden light and gives off a great sense of energy. The immediacy of the vision, the sparkling touch, and the unfinished quality of the work are all precursors of impressionism and reveal Carpeaux as a painter of remarkable modernity.
Karine Huguenaud (tr. P.H.)
June 2002Date : 1867Technique : oil on canvasDimensions : H = 0.56 m, L = 0.46 mPlace held : Paris, Musée d’OrsayPhoto credit : © RMN
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