Laughing Girl with Roses
J.-B. Carpeaux was one of the most renowned masters of both public and ornamental sculpture in nineteenth-century France. After studying in Rome, he made his first public appearance in Paris in 1862, with a composition entitled Ugolino and his Sons, which was inspired by Dante's Inferno (Canto 33). Although the group had a half-hearted reception among critics, Carpeaux found influential patrons, thanks to whom he soon became a favourite of the imperial family. Between 1863 and 1866, he was working on the southern façade of the Louvre, overlooking the Seine, decorating it with sculptural ornaments (Imperial France Enlightening the World and The Triumph of Flora), later made an allegorical sculpture, The Four Continents, for the fountain in the garden of the Luxembourg Palace, and another multi-figured composition, The Dance, for a façade, this time of the Opera Garniér. In 1871, during the Commune, he sought refuge in London, and it was upon returning to Paris in 1872 that he revived the enterprise, one of whose fruits is the terracotta piece in Budapest.
Although he earned his fame with his monumental sculptural groups, Carpeaux could hardly have lived only on these. Since these monumental works required an extreme amount of material and work which could only be executed by a large number of well-trained assistants, the costs of realisation often consumed the complete fee of the commission. For Carpeaux, as for many other artists, the solution was that French law reserved the right of copy-making for the artist of the original work. Many artists, including the young Rodin, supplemented their income by selling their reproduction rights to specialised workshops, which then paid them a certain percentage after the replicas they made in sizes and techniques that were in demand. Carpeaux, however, was dissatisfied with this comfortable and reliable, but not very lucrative, solution: at the encouragement of his friend and mentor, lawyer Jean-Baptiste Foucart, he decided to take the reproduction of his works into his own hands, and invested heavily into a workshop in Auteuil, which was run first by his brother, Émile, then from 1873, by the sculptor Samuel Meynier.
His own workshop allowed Carpeaux to control all stages of the working process, and to continuously rework the models. As a result, the "reproductions" that left Carpeaux's workshop are different in many details, which is to say they are not so much simple reproductions as "individual variations on a subject". Of approximately fifty such "subjects" or types 133 (among them the Laughing Girl with Roses), Carpeaux put on sale 73 marble, 98 bronze and 282 terracotta versions at nine successive exhibitions during the last two years of his life. The terracotta piece of the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts must have been purchased by its first owner at one of these auctions.
When creating the original models which were later reproduced in so many forms, Carpeaux used the most successful details of his own, monumental multi-figured sculptures, which he had every reason to believe would be popular ornaments of bourgeois salons. Accordingly, the positioning of the head and the mimicry of the protagonist of the Flora-group recur in the busts entitled Mischievous Girl, Laughing Neapolitan Girl, and Laughing Girl with Roses, which were realised in various sizes and techniques. Interestingly, the model for Flora was Anne Foucart, daughter of the lawyer who encouraged Carpeaux to start his own reproduction workshop.
Text: © PÉTER ÚJVÁRI