Carpeaux’s Ugolin in Compiègne Restored


25/5/13 - Restoration - Compiègne, Musée national du château - The Musée du Second Empire at the château in Compiègne owns several works by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, including a large plaster sculpture representing the group of Ugolino, surrounded by his children. The subject, drawn from Canto XXXIII of Dante’s Inferno is a familiar one : after having been sentenced to starve to death in prison, Ugolino devours the corpses of his sons and grandsons who had been locked up with him. The artist conceived the group between 1857 and 1861 while at the Villa Medici where he was in residence after winning the Prix de Rome. There are several known replicas, including a patinated plaster at the Petit Palais in Paris, another one in Valenciennes, a marble (at the Metropolitan Museum) produced in 1867 under Carpeaux’s supervision by his assistant Bernard and a bronze residing at the Musée d’Orsay.


1. Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827-1875)
Ugolin (before restoration)
Patinated Plaster - H. 197 cm
Compiègne, Musée national du château
Photo : Didier Rykner

2. Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827-1875)
Ugolin (after restoration)
Patinated Plaster - H. 197 cm
Compiègne, Musée national du château
Photo : Didier Rykner


Donated by Ms. Dervillé, the plaster in Compiègne was exposed to the elements for many years, resulting in a thick black crust which detracted from its beauty (ill. 1). The restoration, carried out by Jeanne Thibaudeau and Anna Kisselinskaia under the supervision of the curator Gilles Grandjean, removed this blackened layer by first dusting off the statue then using gauze to apply a gel which reacts much as a facial mask.
The results are spectacular (ill. 2) : the crust has totally disappeared and the surface of the plaster appears particularly well preserved since it even shows the marks in the form of a cross used for the adjusting (mise au point). It is very possible that this plaster may have served as the model for the marble version at the Metropolitan Museum, even the bronzes.

This work will be presented next year at the Musée d’Orsay during the Carpeaux retrospective currently being prepared.

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Didier Rykner, lundi 27 mai 2013



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