Antique Bust Of French Composer Charles Gounod (1818–1893) by the sculptor Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827–1875)


French Composer Charles Gounod (1818–1893) by the sculptor Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827–1875) A fabulous statement bust that has a great look and movement in sculpture. Purchased from a high end Beverly Hills California estate sale this piece is of good quality and dates from around 1860 . Constructed from plaster there have been repairs to damage over the years historically, however this does not detract away from the look and enjoyment of the piece.

Like many nineteenth-century French sculptors, Carpeaux was from the working class. Son and grandson of stonemasons in Valenciennes, he was apprenticed as a boy to Debaisieux, a plasterer. Since drawing was a necessary tool of his trade, Carpeaux was enrolled in the Académie de Peinture, Sculpture et Architecture in Valenciennes, and, after his family’s relocation to Paris in 1838, at the École Gratuite de Dessin (or Petite École) until 1843. That these two schools were open to instruct youths like Carpeaux in drawing was part of a government policy to encourage the application of the fine arts to industry.

The École Gratuite de Dessin was founded in 1766 as a school for industrial workers and emphasized the economic utility of drawing for practitioners of many skilled métiers, including engraving, enameling, horology, masonry, and various sorts of woodwork. There Carpeaux was trained both by the controversial modèle estampe method of copying prints after master drawings and by copying eighteenth-century sculpture. A shift in the school’s curriculum under the leadership of Jean Hilaire Belloc in 1831 brought fresh sculpture courses, which perhaps influenced Carpeaux’s interest in the profession. The Petit École took pride in its students and their achievements, especially those like Carpeaux, who was accepted for study at the renowned École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in 1844. Too talented to remain a tradesman or practitioner (an assistant who carved the marble according to the sculptor’s original concept), Carpeaux’s destiny was to become an artist.

During training at the École des Beaux-Arts, Carpeaux additionally studied with Romantic sculptor François Rude. In 1850, he abandoned Rude’s studio for that of Francisque Duret, a teacher at the school under whose tutelage Carpeaux achieved an honorable mention for his Achilles Wounded in the Heel (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Valenciennes) in the Prix de Rome competition the same year. This was followed by a second place for his figure Philoctetes on Lemnos. In 1854, he won the Grand Prix de Rome for his group Hector and His Son Astyanax (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Valenciennes).

A resolve to complete and receive payment for his bas-relief The Emperor Napoleon III Receiving Abd el-Kader at the Palace of Saint Cloud (as well as an eye injury and illness) delayed Carpeaux’s arrival at the French Academy in Rome by one year. At the Villa Medici in January 1856, he began a five-year curriculum in which the completion of various assignments of increasingly complex sculptures and bas-reliefs was required. Sequestered away from the distractions of the commercial art world, the pensioners at the Villa Medici were able to refine their skills and their taste for ancient and modern art. In the first year, each sculpture student produced a marble copy of an ancient statue with the help of a practitioner. Carpeaux created his first masterpiece, Fisherboy with a Shell (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Valenciennes), which he subsequently exhibited at the École des Beaux-Arts in 1858.

Many drawings from his study in Rome show that Carpeaux sketched his surroundings constantly (2000.105). He was especially receptive to the works of Michelangelo, whose gestural poses he observed carefully and incorporated into his own design for a fifth-year assignment (2001.199; 1975.98.1). The resulting multifigural plaster group, Ugolino and His Sons, renders a scene from Dante’s Divine Comedy(Canto 33) in which the Pisan Count Ugolino della Gherardesca and his sons are punished by starvation. This work caused a sensation in Rome, and the boldness and vigor of Carpeaux’s dramatic rendition contrasted sharply with the prevailing Neoclassical formulae of the French Academy. It immediately established Carpeaux as the heir of the Romantic sculptors of the 1830s. After lengthy delays and struggles with officialdom, the French Ministry of Fine Arts commissioned a bronze cast by Victor Thiébaut and placed it in the Tuileries Gardens as a pendant to a bronze copy of the Laocoön. Carpeaux also executed the work in marble and displayed it at the Exposition Universelle of 1867 in Paris, where it won first prize for sculpture (67.250).

The success of Ugolino and His Sons immediately brought Carpeaux important commissions, including a portrait of the nine-year-old Prince Impérial, son of Napoleon III, the relief decoration for the Pavilion of Flora at the Tuilieries (1864), the sculptural group The Dance for the facade of Charles Garnier’s newly completed Opéra (1865), The Four Parts of the World Sustaining the Globe for the Fountain of the Observatory in the gardens of the Luxembourg Palace (1867), and a monument to the painter Antoine Watteau. In April 1869, he married Amélie de Montfort, the twenty-two-year-old daughter of the vicomte de Montfort, a retired general (1989.289.2). With her he had two sons.


Two months before his death in 1875, Carpeaux was awarded the Cross of the Legion of Honor. His oeuvre is generally seen as a reaction to the conventional classical style imposed by the French Academy, yet undoubtedly his works owe much to its doctrines and the ancient and modern masters to whom he was exposed during the hard-won apprenticeship in Rome.

67cm Height

60cm full width

Plinth base 20cm x 20cm 

As a genuine antique/vintage product there is wear and use commensurate with age.  Some wooden products may have signs of historic woodworm. As a precaution we apply a clear triple action woodworm treatment that also kills wet rot, dry rot and woodworm. Please look at all the images carefully and ask any questions pre purchase as we do not unfortunately offer refunds due to the size and shipping costs of our antiques/items.  All our items are available on line at Search & Rescued and other online stores.