Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, one of the most perfect embodiments of the Romantic idea of the artist cursed by the brevity and brilliance of his career, concentrated into around fifteen years, built an exceptional career closely linked to Napoleon III’s reign.

This exhibition is the first retrospective devoted to his works as a sculptor, painter and illustrator since the exhibition at the Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais in 1975, and will explore the work of a major figure in French sculpture in the second half of the 19th century who, according to one of his models, Alexandre Dumas, was “more alive than life itself”.

The chrono-thematic exhibition, comprised of 85 sculptures, twenty or so paintings and some sixty drawings, is organised into ten sections enabling a better understanding of how this troubled talent continuously alternated between vital energy and tragic and anguished inspiration. Emphasis will be placed on the major groups produced by Carpeaux, organised into files bringing together all of the stages of the creation of the work: Pêcheur à la coquille [Fisherboy with a Shell], Ugolin [Ugolino], the Prince impérial [Prince Imperial], La Danse [The Dance], the Fontaine de l’Observatoire [Fountain of the Observatory]. The works testify to the "Fête Impériale”, sketches, paintings of balls at the court, ambitious and elegant portraits and will contrast with the dark and tortured side of Carpeaux's personal inspiration.

Displayed at the Musée d'Orsay alongside large original models, the virtuoso sketches in terracotta or plaster lead visitors along the arduous path between the feverish conception of an idea and the final production, following in the footsteps of one of the greatest French sculptors of the 19th century.