Neapolitan Fisherboy with a Shell

Circa 1873
White marble on octagonal base, with wooden pedestal
Marble figure: 36 1/4 x 18 11/16 x 21 7/8 in.
Hôtel Drouot, Vente Carpeaux, Paris, 21 December 1873, nos.1 and 2;
Lord Mildmay of Fleet, UK;
Fabius Frères collection, Paris, from 1950;
Their sale at Sotheby’s Paris, 26-27 October 2011, no. 48
Daniel Katz, London
Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux 1827-1825, Paris Musée du Petit Palais, 1955-56, nos. 14 and 90; Le Second Empire de Winterhalter à Renoir, Paris, Musée Jacquemart-André, May-June 1957, nos. 298 and 299; Sur les traces de Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, Paris, Grand Palais, March-May 1975, nos. 44 and 45
Dirk Kocks, Jean Baptiste Carpeaux: Rezeption und Originalität (Sankt Augustin 1981), pp61-67,161, notes 327 and 328: De Carpeaux à Matisse: La Sculpture française de 1850 à 1914 dans les musées et les collections publiques du Nord de la France, exh. cat (Lille; Musée des Beaux -Arts, 1982), pp.113, 114, 116, 118-20; Suzanne Glover Lindsay, European Sculpture of the Nineteenth Century: The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue (Washington,2000), pp.64-79

Jean Baptiste Carpeaux (1827-75)

“Sculpture is life, life is movement and it is here [in the street] that you will learn how to render
it. Impress in your mind the physiognomies, the appearances, the gestures of all those people
there, watch them going, running, playing, arguing, fighting. And, back in the studio, close your
eyes, recall their attitudes, fix them in a drawing or in a clay sketch. Models in the academy are
all stiff: they cannot teach us the exact structures of bodies: it is in the street that we must study
our art, not in the Vatican.” 1

Jean Baptiste Carpeaux

As a young man, French sculpturer Jean Baptiste Carpeaux lived in Rome from 1856 until 1861,
where he studied with a scholarship from the French Academy. It was in there that he
developed his distinctive style, applying the principles of his idols, the Italian masters of the

Renaissance and Baroque, while depicting everyday subjects. Carpeaux created The Neapolitan
Fisherboy, in 1867, one year after his move to Italy. The work was an academic assignment
piece. Carpeaux had been asked to send as an example of his work back to Paris as a proof of
his progress. The artist claimed that he based his figure on a young boy he had seen on a trip to
Naples. “My subject exhibited at this moment is taken from nature. It’s a young Fisherboy of
eleven, listening to the echo of a shell and laughing.” 2 At the same time, the work also clearly
pays tribute to his master Francois Rude’s sculpture of a Neapolitan Fisherboy, dating from
1831-33, now on display in the Louvre.

François Rude, Neapolitan Fisherboy, 1831–3
Marble, 77.5 cm high
Louvre, Paris

Undeniably superb in its intricate execution and balanced pose, proving the artist’s remarkable
understanding of the human form, Carpeaux’ Neapolitan Fisherboy challenged the academic
tradition. The figure’s extraordinary naturalism and expressive vitality aroused some
controversy among critics, who found the boy’s nudity and lack of decorum in poor taste. Yet
when presented to the general public in Rome and Paris Neapolitan Fisherboy was an
enormous success. In 1863, Napoleon III purchased the first marble edition for his wife Empress
Eugénie. When Carpeaux decided to produce an interacting companion piece for the Fisherboy
in 1867, the equally vivacious and masterfully executed Girl with a Shell, the Empress
immediately added it to her personal collection, as well. The Girl with a Shell is sitting on an

overturned basket full of fish, holding a conch shell on her head like a hat. Her smile is just as
infections like that of her male counterpart. Both figures radiate an irresistible innocence,
charm and grace.
Neapolitan Fisherboy with a Shell and Girl with a Shell is without doubt one of Carpeaux’s
greatest masterpieces and proved to be a professional triumph for the artist. The marble pair
formely in the French imperial collection is is now with the National Gallery of Art in
Washington D.C., USA; the present pair, dated to 1873, was produced for the art market and is
the only pair to still have its original carved wooden pedestals for display. Other signed single
marbles of the either the Fisherboy or the Girl are today in the collections of the Hermitage in
St. Petersburg, the Pushkin Museum in Moscow and the Carlsberg Glyptothek in Copenhagen.
Due to its extraordinary success, Carpeaux also produced the The Neapolitan Fisherboy in a
smaller bronze and a bust version, which he marketed in French department stores. There are
also versions in plaster and terracotta.

1 Carpeaux to Fagulière, quoted in James David Draper and Edouard Papet, The Passions of Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux.
(Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, March-May 2014), p.60
2 Letter form Carpeaux to Foucart, September 18, 1858, André Mabille de Poncheville, Carpeaux inconnu; ou La
Tradition recueillie. Brussels 1921, p. 154