In 1867, while Carpeaux had finished decorating the Pavillon de Flore at the Louvre and creating at the Opera his masterwork, The Dance, he was commissioned by the city of Paris to design the fountain of the Observatoire. The given theme, the four cardinal points, did not inspire him very much for he did not care to repeat one more time a configuration of back to back caryatids supporting a globe. Referring to the rotation of the earth, he thought up of figures pivoting upon themselves, an idea which led him to evoke the world's many different ethnic peoples.
The abolition of slavery in 1848 had prompted great enthusiasm.
The sculptor Charles Cordier exhibited at the 1848 Salon the superb bust of black man, that was followed by many others: in 1861 for example, his bust entitled "Capresse des Colonies" was presented at the Louvre and acquired by Napoleon III. It is believed that the same model was to pose for Carpeaux some nine years later. Upon studying for the fountain project, he created the bust-portraits of "The Negress", "The Chinese Lady" and "The European Lady". The marble bust of the "Captive Negress", exhibited at the Salon in 1869, was purchased by the Emperor and put in the Château de Saint- Cloud.
Carpeaux maintained the ownership of the model which he edited many times, in various materials (marble, bronze, terracotta, plaster). The Sèvres Manufactory put out an unglazed porcelain version of the bust. The celebrity of the work was due to the beauty of the expression.
Carpeaux put his knowledge of movement at the service of his imagination. Tied up, she remains motionless except for the neck, the face and the hair which manage to break away from her captivity. The diagonal torsion implies the inner revolt contained in the simple question: Why be born a slave?
Reproduction in hand patinated resin
- H. 35 cm (13,78"); L. 23 cm (9,05"); P. 21 cm (8,27") - 6,200 kg
- Material of the original
- Terracotta or plaster
- Paris - Musée d'Orsay
- Art movement
- 19th century
- Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827-1875)