Jean-Joseph Carriès French, 1855-1894


Born in Lyon in February 1855, Carriès was a virtuoso sculptor of his generation. Death will loom large in his life and work. His father had been an orphan and by a terrible stroke of fate Carriès, too, was orphaned at the age of six. Disconsolate, the memory of his mother followed him his whole life. His younger sister died at 18. Carriès himself was struck down at 39.


Carriès was raised in an orphanage under the protection of Sister Callamand, the same nun who had raised his father. A devoted and remarkably caring woman, she found him well-to-do god-parents and supervised his apprenticeship at the age of 12 to Pierre Vermare, a medallion sculptor and modeler of pious images. Four years later, Sister Callamand helped Carriès earn his first commissions by recommending him as a talented, young portrait sculptor to bourgeois Lyon families. His remarkable skill as a modeler prompted Mother Callamand (she had become Mother Superior) to suggest that he attend the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Thanks to her guiding hand, his godparents and other Lyon notables agreed to finance his studies in Paris. In January 1874, at the age of 19, Carriès enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts as a pupil of Augustin Dumont (1801-1884) a very senior and respected academic sculptor of his day.


Carriès quickly felt out of place in this rigid, academic environment. Independent by temperament and upbringing, self-inspired and largely self-taught, Carriès's classmates saw him as the odd-ball of the class - which he was. Carriès had a remarkable degree of dexterity, worked at great speed and with astonishing self confidence. Begrudgingly, his classmates admired his gift of observation and reproduction. But his technique was unconventional and his idiosyncratic habit of mixing and applying patinas to plaster or terracotta during the sculpting process left his classmates and professor perplexed. They became disdainful of his originality. Quickly, the diffident black sheep became fed up with his classmates’ sarcasm as well as the strictures of academic sculpture. After six months at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Carriès left, never to attend a class again. 


Henceforth, Carriès was free to develop in his own way and he eked out a very meager existence during the next few years. His two masters were "le Louvre et Notre Dame."  In the Louvre he spent week after week sketching the sculptures of Michelangelo and the French Renaissance; in the great cathedral he spent hours admiring the expressive faces of gothic statuary, both the grotesque and the sublime. It is during this period of deep solitude, raw ambition and defiant self-confidence, a time when he was too poor to pay for sitting models that Carriès began to sculpt his first series of pauper portraits. Like the world of Gothic representation, they are both luminous and dark.


Much of Carriès's art is amplified by his superb, rich patinas and he was passionate about crafting his own coatings to very high personal standards. Carriès believed that patinas were more than mere dressings to a finished piece - they gave "life and soul" to a sculpture. He developed his own recipes for subtle shadings, layered reflections and lustrous undertones. The results are portraits of incarnate personalities, life-like representations inhabited by beings that we seldom forget.


Carriès first appeared at the 1875 Salon, at the age of twenty. He earned increasing recognition with every Salon, winning a double Mention Honorable in 1881and another Mention Honorable in 1883. By the age of 35 Carriès had won the admiration of a large part of the art establishment. Robert de Montesquiou (1855-1921) wrote that Carries's private exhibition at the Cercle des Arts Libéraux in 1882 made "a considerable impact"; the officially feted sculptor and Beaux-Arts professor Alexandre Falguière (1831-1900) bought his work; the established senior sculptor Antonin Mercié (1845-1916) and junior sculptor Jean-Antoine Idrac (1849-1884) were advocates of Carriès’s powerfully progressive style, while High Society portraitist Carolus-Duran (1838-1917) praised him; Jules Breton (1827-1906) commissioned him to sculpt his portrait; the famous glass master Emile Gallé (1846-1904) expressed his "esteem and admiration"; Jacques-Emile Blanche (1861-1942) put Carriès on a par with Rodin; and the great sculptor Jules Dalou (1838-1902) both nominated Carriès and presented him with the Legion d'Honneur in 1892, at the age of 37. He died two years later.


Salon des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1892

Museums and Public Collections

Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Musée du Petit Palais, Paris

Musée des Beaux Arts, Lyon

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Staatliche Museen, Berlin

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