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Paul Claude-Michel Carpentier, Self-Portrait of the Artist and His Family in His Studio

In 2014, the Dallas Museum of Art acquired Self-Portrait of the Artist and His Family in His Studio (fig. 1) by the little-known French artist Paul Claude-Michel Carpentier (1787–1877). Within days of the purchase, the museum received a gift of an unsigned and previously unattributed, fully realized preparatory drawing (fig. 2) for the completed canvas. The acquisition of these two related works provided an opportunity to delve into the details of the career and the artistic production of Carpentier, who, in the course of his long life, produced a small but respectable body of work and contributed in various and interesting ways to the artistic and cultural life of his age.

Set in what is almost certainly its original frame, Carpentier’s sizable canvas shows the 46-year-old artist in his studio in the act of painting. He is standing before a canvas resting on an easel with his mahogany paint box nearby; in his right hand he holds a brush, in his left his palette and a few other brushes. The canvas on which Carpentier has been working displays a white chalk preparatory drawing on a beige-gray ground, perhaps made with the piece of white chalk resting on the easel’s edge (fig. 3). Carpentier has portrayed himself gazing at the viewer, while his wife, Adèle, and his 11-year-old daughter, Clémence, seem to look at the canvas. Behind them (fig. 4) is a well-appointed bookcase surmounted by studio casts of Antinous, Crouching Aphrodite, a leg, and a bust. In front of the bookcase is a gold-colored statue of Voltaire, which, research shows,[1] is the gold-painted papier-mâché statue that Antoine Houdon (1741–1828) made for the procession in which Voltaire’s ashes were transferred to the Panthéon in Paris in 1791 (fig. 5). Louis-Léopold Boilly’s 1804 composition, Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828) in His Studio (fig. 6), shows the same statue in Houdon’s studio, where it was kept until his death in 1828, when Carpentier acquired it.[2] Carpentier later donated the sculpture to the municipal library of his native Rouen at the occasion of its 1847 inauguration. It remains there today and is currently undergoing restoration.

The fully executed painting differs in several respects from the preparatory drawing. In the foreground, Carpentier added the yellow and red paisley pashmina shawl that is draped over the chair back. This addition fills an empty space at the bottom of the painting and connects the figures of his wife and daughter. Behind the figure of his wife, he also added a woman’s bonnet suspended from a second easel. It completes another area that was left empty in the drawing. Moreover, in the painting Adèle’s dress has a delicate white lace-trimmed collar, which replaces the shawl around her neck that he sketched in the drawing. The white collar highlights the luxurious fabric of her dress and provides a background for the delicate gold necklace that she holds between her fingers. Finally, the figure of Carpentier himself has been slightly turned so that his right shoulder is partly hidden behind his wife’s head. All of these changes appear to have been made to better connect the figures and to create a more coherent composition.

As for the background, it too differs substantially from the drawing. Carpentier has turned the sculpture of Voltaire 45 degrees so that it is seen in frontal rather than in profile view, as it is rendered in the drawing. Voltaire’s size also has been reduced to make room for the four plaster casts that are grouped together in the upper left corner. This is a substantial change from the drawing, which only shows a glimpse of the Crouching Aphrodite, half hidden by a curtain in the upper right corner.

Paul Claude-Michel Le Carpentier was born in Rouen on November 27, 1787. He trained with Jean-Jacques Lebarbier (1738–1826) and briefly with Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825).[3] By 1817, Carpentier had settled permanently in Paris, where he showed Portrait of the Artist’s Father and Mother (location unknown) at the Salon of 1817. Until 1824, he signed his works “Le Carpentier,” but the proximity of his painting to those of the landscape painter Louis Benjamin Le Carpentier at the Salon that year led him to drop the article “Le” from his surname.[4] In 1825, Carpentier earned silver and bronze medals, respectively, at exhibitions in Douai and Lille for his painting A Painter in His Studio Giving Advice to His Young Student (location unknown).[5] Thereafter, he exhibited regularly in Arras, Cambrai, Valenciennes, and Paris.

At the Salon of 1831, he showed Episode of July 29, 1830, at Morning (fig. 7), which depicts a cadre of the July Revolution’s working-class heroes who, after a victorious skirmish in Paris, looted the dead government soldiers’ bullets, but intentionally pushed their money into the gutter.[6] This contemporary history painting (rare in Carpentier’s oeuvre) with its obvious partisan message, submitted to the Salon in the same postrevolutionary year as Eugène Delacroix‘s Liberty on the Barricades, may tell us something about Carpentier’s political convictions.

Two years after showing Episode of July 29, 1830, at Morning, at the Salon of 1833, the jury accepted his Portrait of Antoine-François Gelée (fig. 8). Signed, dated, and dedicated “À mon ami Gelée” (to my friend Gelée), it shows his friend seated at his work table in what appears to be an attic room. A skylight above his head brightly illuminates his face. Turning towards an open door to the left, he presses a copper engraving plate with his left arm against the inclined work surface. In his left hand, he holds a magnifying glass, in his right a burin. Additional engraving tools and rags rest on the table.

Carpentier’s most successful year at the Paris Salon occurred in 1834. The jury accepted all the works that he submitted. These included an encaustic portrait of his artist-friend Jacques-Nicolas Paillot de Montabert (fig. 9), Portrait of Mademoiselle C. C., and the Dallas oil painting. Over the next five years, Carpentier submitted nine works to the annual Salon with the jury refusing only one.

Throughout this productive time, Carpentier also taught private lessons in his home, located at 10 rue Lancry, and was quite involved in the Société Libre des Beaux-Arts, serving at one time or another as its treasurer, secretary, or archivist, and regularly contributing to its publication with essays on the accomplishments of his peers, including August-François Dreuille (1796–1852).[7] Carpentier was likewise devoted to the administration of the Société de Secours Mutuel entre les Artistes, an organization that he helped form to raise money to support infirmed and elderly artists, as well as their surviving widows and children. These activities seem not to have impeded his production, as his output remained quite steady until 1839.

In 1839, Carpentier’s artistic activities abruptly ended when his father-in-law passed away, bequeathing his daughter (Carpentier’s wife) two large office buildings in the heart of Paris and 200 million francs, which was an extraordinary sum of money for that time. This inheritance may be the reason that, henceforth, he abandoned his career as an artist, presumably to manage the properties. This windfall does not seem to have changed his family’s modest lifestyle, however, judging by the inventory taken of their two-bedroom home after Carpentier’s wife, Adèle, passed away ten years later in 1849.[8] The account suggests that their belongings were not extravagant or fashionable, but functional and practical. Their modest art collection was comprised of lithographs, engravings, and watercolors of the city of Rouen and their library included several volumes by Homer and Ovid. Most illuminating, the record details that a large wardrobe closet contained two easels, a paint box, a palette, several brushes, numerous paint tubes, pencils, and three portfolios containing dozens of engravings, prints, studies, sketches, and drawings.[9] So it seems that for at least a decade Carpentier carefully kept all of the tools he had utilized as a professional working artist in a closet while he managed his wife’s inheritance.

Although Carpentier stopped painting full time, he championed his peers’ accomplishments by writing essays about their successes[10] as well as articles promoting the practice of encaustic (or hot wax painting), a method he often employed throughout his brief career.[11] Carpentier asserted that with encaustic painting it is possible “to arrive at the truest imitation of nature; it lends itself equally to the representation of big scenes and the most delicate objects.”[12] Not only did he believe that encaustic paintings garnered results that were more natural, but he also argued that they could better endure the Parisian climate. In 1834, he wrote that encaustic painting was “not subject to yellowing or cracking, and that it promises the works a longer duration, while several of the most beautiful pictures painted in oil for the gallery at the Palais-Royal, that are now no more than twelve to fifteen years old, are threatened by future ruin.”[13]

Carpentier shared his interest in the encaustic method with his friend, artist Jacques-Nicolas Paillot de Montabert, who believed that the decline of painting since antiquity was due to the abandonment of encaustic painting and that a revival of painting was only possible through the reintroduction of this medium. Their common interest in encaustic painting was no doubt the reason why Carpentier employed that method when he made his friend’s portrait (fig. 9).

Carpentier often employed the encaustic method and believed that one of the best qualities of the procedure was that the paintings kept their glow, rather than darkening like oil paintings. Encaustic paintings were not varnished, but covered with a final gloss of pure wax. If well executed, the wax polish became more transparent with age, unlike varnish, which tended to darken over time. Carpentier demonstrated his concern for the future care of his encaustic works by either adding “procédé encaustic” (encaustic process) next to his signature on the front of the composition or by inscribing specific care instructions on the back, such as that the owner should never apply varnish, only wash the painting with plain water and then wipe it with a soft, clean cloth to restore its brilliance.

After Paillot de Montabert died, Carpentier raised money to pay for a suitable tomb and monument for the cemetery in his native Troyes (fig. 10). Carpentier designed a two-sided memorial that included a bas-relief profile portrait of Montabert (fig. 11). Antoine-François Gelée then made lithographs (fig. 12) of the overall plan, which were sold by subscription to those who provided financial support towards erecting the monument. Carpentier’s peers lauded the design. In a report about the monument, his friend Gelée wrote, “This medallion reminds us so perfectly of Montabert’s traits.” He continued by recognizing that Carpentier’s “tireless work on the project demonstrated that nothing could stop him from fulfilling his obligation of friendship,” and concluded by encouraging all artists to be “proud to count a man of Carpentier’s character among us.”[14] In addition to designing his tomb, in 1875 Carpentier published Montabert’s notes on encaustic painting in Notes sur la peinture à la cire cautérisée ou procédé encaustique d’après les laborieuses recherches de Paillot de Montabert (Notes on the cauterized wax painting or encaustic process based on the laborious research of Paillot de Montabert).[15] The notes address all aspects of the process from softening the wax; mixing colors with the wax; and properly preparing the canvas, walls, stone, and panels, whether wood or zinc. The monograph that contains the detailed compilation of Montabert’s notes remains a valuable resource for painting conservators to this day.

Carpentier’s interests were not limited to the ancient process of encaustic painting, but they also extended to the emerging photographic techniques pioneered by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851). In 1855, Carpentier wrote the monograph Notice sur Daguerre (Notes on Daguerre), which many experts today regard as the most reliable firsthand account of the invention of photography. Beyond this biographical essay, Carpentier also made an encaustic portrait (fig. 13) and marble bust of Daguerre (fig. 14). Interestingly, the encaustic portrait is an exact copy in reverse of a photograph of Daguerre that the US-American photographer Charles Richard Meade (1826–1858) made three months before the photographer’s death (fig. 15). In 1864, when Carpentier gave the painting to the French Society for Photography, he said, “I was an intimate friend of Daguerre, and I often begged him to sit for me; to my great regret, he always declined. Three months before his death, two photographers from New York, having come for a visit at his property of Petit-Bry to pay tribute, convinced him to sit still momentarily before the camera. It is based on one of their results from that event that I have, since Daguerre’s death, executed the portrait that I present to you today.”[16] The French Society for Photography still owns the painting and the marble bust, both of which are currently undergoing conservation.

When it was acquired by the Dallas Museum of Art, Self-Portrait of the Artist and His Family in His Studio was in pristine condition with no evidence of restoration. Though its surface had yellowed, its state was extremely close to what it was presumably like in 1833 (fig. 16). The question still lingered about the technique that the artist had used when he executed the portrait because although the painting does not bear the inscription “procédé encaustic” (encaustic procedure), the two solvent wells on his palette in the painting look similar to those in his encaustic treatise. It was necessary that our conservator be sure that there was no encaustic in the painting before beginning the little treatment it required. Therefore, she sent two miniscule samples of paint layers and one of the discolored coating for chemical analysis. Surprisingly, the results revealed that the discolored surface coating was primarily made of beeswax with traces of resin. The paint was oil with traces of rosin, added either to the paint directly or residue from the use of turpentine during the painting process. The two metallic solvent wells that rest on Carpentier’s palette support the results of the chemical analysis, as they would have held solvents like turpentine to clean brushes and to dilute mixtures used in the painting process.

Once it was confirmed that the painting was not encaustic, the discolored wax coating that dulled its surface was removed, revealing paint underneath that was robust and intact. Thus, a little bit of cleaning transformed the image, bringing back its intended depth and cool tonality. Even before cleaning, it was apparent that Carpentier painted in a technically accomplished manner, but after cleaning one can fully appreciate his confident brushwork, skill in using glazes, and ability to render various surface textures, such as skin, fabric, and hair.

Although until recently this artist was entirely unknown, awareness of Carpentier’s many gifts seem to be growing. Just this year, two different Parisian art dealers offered paintings by Carpentier: Portrait of a Young Man (fig. 17)[17] and Portrait of a Young Girl (fig. 18). The Dallas Museum of Art’s purchase of Self-Portrait of the Artist and His Family in His Studio and this “New Discoveries” article are the first steps towards reevaluating the artistic and critical contributions of Paul Claude-Michel Carpentier.

Martha MacLeod
marthajmacleod[at]gmail.com



All translations are by the author. I am grateful to Petra Chu and Cara Jordan for their attentive editing. My thanks to Marine Kisiel, curator of paintings at the Musée d’Orsay, for her assistance securing the document housed at the Archives Nationales, Paris, France. Finally, my sincere appreciation to my former Dallas Museum of Art colleagues, Heather MacDonald and Olivier Meslay, for acquiring the Dallas painting and for their steadfast support of my research on the life and works of Carpentier.

[1] “La statue de Voltaire, qui est son chef-d’œuvre, doit son existence à une circonstance exceptionnelle, bien digne d’inspirer le génie de l’artiste: la translation des cendres du poète au Panthéon” (The statue of Voltaire, which is his masterpiece, owes its existence to an exceptional circumstance, well worthy of inspiring the genius of the artist: the translation of the poet’s ashes to the Pantheon). “Statue de Voltaire, donnée à la ville de Rouen, par M. Paul Carpentier,” Revue de Rouen et de Normandie (Rouen: Péron, 1847), 524.

[2] “C’est cette ébauche, dis-je, précieusement conservée par l’artiste jusqu’à sa mort, que M. Paul Carpentier, qui s’en est rendu acquéreur, nous offre aujourd’hui” (It is this sketch, I say, preciously preserved by the artist until his death, that Mr. Paul Carpentier, who has bought it, offers us today). “Statue de Voltaire, donnée à la ville de Rouen, par M. Paul Carpentier,” Revue de Rouen et de Normandie (Rouen: Péron, 1847), 524–25.

[3] Many sources erroneously cite that he was the son and student of the artist Charles Joseph Le Carpentier (1744–1822). However, baptismal records held at the Archives de la Seine-Maritime confirm that his parents were in fact Paul Claude Le Carpenter, a master turner, and Marie Catherine Le Noble.

[4] Émille Bellier de la Chavignerie, Dictionnaire général des artistes de l’école française: Depuis l’origine des arts du dessin jusqu’à nos jours (Paris: Librairie Renouard, 1882), 950.

[5] Charles Gabet, Dictionnaire des artistes de l’école française au XIXe siècle (Paris: Chez Madame Verge, Libraire, 1831), 119.

[6] The Musée Carnavalet’s online collection for this painting includes the following note: “La scène se situe dans la rue Chilpéric qui longeait le côté nord de l’église Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois et aboutissait sur la place de même nom, faisant face à la colonnade du Louvre. Tableau exposé au salon de 1831 (n°283). L’œuvre était accompagnée d’un commentaire édifiant, exaltant les vertus naturelles de l’homme du peuple: ‘Des hommes du peuple vident les gibernes des soldats tombés sous leurs coups; il en sort de l’argent et en même temps des cartouches. Ces braves saisissent les cartouches et repoussent avec le pied des pièces d’argent jusque dans le ruisseau.’” (The scene is located in the rue Chilpéric, which ran along the north side of the church of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois and ended in the square of the same name, facing the colonnade of the Louvre. Painting exhibited at the Salon of 1831 [n° 283]. The work was accompanied by an edifying commentary, exalting the natural virtues of the common man: “Common men empty the gibbons of the soldiers who have fallen under their blows; money comes out in addition to cartridges. These brave men seize the cartridges and with their feet push away the silver pieces into the brook.”). “Notice complète: Carpentier, Épisode 29 juillet 1830, au matin,” Catalogues des collections patrimoniales, Mairie de Paris, accessed December 1, 2017, http://a80-musees.apps.paris.frnew-win-icon.

[7] M. Paul Carpentier, “Notice nécrologique sur A.F. Dreuille, peintre,” Annales de la Société Libre des Beaux-Arts (Paris: Bonaventure, 1855), 188–93.

[8] As recorded in the Inventaire après décès: Gignoux, Adèle-Clémence. Carpentier, Paul-Claude-M. (épouse). Décéde le 8 mars 1849 à Fontainebleau (Inventory after death: Gignoux, Adèle-Clémence. Carpentier, Paul-Claude-M. [spouse]. Died the 8th of March 1849 at Fontainebleau). Notarie côté MC/RE/CXI/17, Archives Nationales, Paris, France.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Examples of his articles include “Rapport de M. Paul Carpentier sur un ouvrage de M. Horsin-Déon, ayant pour titre: De la conservation et de la restauration des tableaux peints à l’huile,” Annales de la société libre des beaux-arts (Paris: Bonaventure, 1850–1853), 161–165; “Notice sur M. de Montabert, Peintre et homme de lettres,” L’Artistaire. Livre des principales initiations aux beaux-arts (Paris: Alexandre Johanneau, Libraire, 1855), vii–xxiii; “Rapport fait à la Société libre des beaux-arts, au nom de la commission nommée par elle, pour les tableaux encaustiques lustrés, exécutés par M. Clausel,” Annales de la Société libre des beaux-arts (Troyes: Anner-André, 1842), np.

[11] A complete list of Carpentier’s known encaustic works include Portrait of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, second quarter of the nineteenth century, after Elizabeth Harvey, Musée des Beaux-Arts Rouen, inv. 1851.2.5; Portrait of Madame C.G., ca. 1833, location unknown; Portrait of Mademoiselle C.C., ca. 1834, location unknown; Jacques-Nicolas Paillot de Montabert, 1834, retouched 1851, Musée d’Art d’Archéologie et de Sciences Naturelles, Troyes, inv. 851.1; Femme à sa toilette, ca. 1835, location unknown; Christophe Colomb (after del Piombo or A. del Rencon), 1835, Musée de Beaux-Arts, Rouen, inv. 851.2.4; The Creation of Eve, 1835, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen, inv. 851.2.1; François Fenelon, 1835, Musée d’Histoire de Sarlat et du Périgord Noir, inv. 93.MS.537; Portrait of Madame G., ca. 1836, location unknown; Portrait de Madame Z . . . de B . . . , ca. 1836, location unknown; Louis XVI Giving His Instructions to Lapeyrouse, ca. 1838, location unknown; Sainte-Cécile, ca. 1838, location unknown; Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre (1737–1814) (after Elizabeth Harvey), 1847, Musée National des Châteaux de Versailles et de Trinon, Versailles, inv. MV 3005; Portrait of Franz Anton Mesmer (1734–1815, aged 72), 1847, Hôpital de la Salpêtrière, Paris, France; Portrait of Daguerre or Louise-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (1789–1851), 1851, Société Française de Photographie, Paris, inv. 1889.63; Portrait de Henri Marie Picot, Marquis de Dampierre, 1854, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Valenciennes, inv. Ps No. 1; Portrait of a Young Man, 1862, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen; The Testament of Eudamias (after Nicolas Poussin), before 1877, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen, inv. 851.2.2.

[12] “On peut, avec cette procédure, arriver au plus vrai imitateur de la nature; il se prête à la représentation de grandes scènes et des objets les plus délicats.” Extract from a handwritten letter by Paul Claude-Michel Carpentier conserved in artist’s dossier, NUM AU MF03 C008, Institute National d’Histoire de l’Art, Paris.

[13] “Ajoutant que cette peinture n’est sujette ni à jaunir ni à se gercer, et qu’elle promet aux ouvrages une longue durée, tandis que plusieurs des plus beaux tableaux peints à l’huile pour la galerie du Palais-royal, et qui n’ont pas plus de douze à quinze ans de date, sont menacés d’une prochaine ruine.” “Séances des 16 et 23 décembre,” Journal des artistes et des amateurs ou revue pittoresque et musicale 2, no. 26, December 26, 1834, 407.

[14] “En face de ce médaillon, qui nous rappelle si parfaitement ses traits. . . . rien n’a pu l’arrêter pour remplir jusqu’au bout l’obligation que son amitié lui imposait! . . . doit être fière de compter des hommes de ce caractère parmi les hommes qui la composent.” Antoine-François Gelée, “Rapport de M. Gelée sur l’inauguration du monument élevé à la mémoire de Paillot de Montabert,” Annales de la Société Libre des Beaux-Arts (1855), 126–27.

[15] M. Paul Carpentier, Notes sur la peinture a la cire cautérisée ou procédé encaustique d’après les laborieuses recherches de Paillot de Montabert (Paris: Librairie Renouard, 1875).

[16] “J’étais ami intime de Daguerre et bien souvent je l’avais prié de poser devant moi; il avait toujours reculé, à mon grand regret. Trois mois avant sa mort, deux photographes de New-York, étant venus le visiter dans sa propriété de Petit-Bry et lui présenter les hommages des photographes de l’Amérique, obtinrent de lui qu’il s’arrêtât un instant devant la chambre noire. C’est d’après une des épreuves ainsi obtenues que j’ai, depuis la mort de Daguerre, exécuté le buste que j’offre à la Société.” Bulletin de la Société Française de Photographie, deuxième série, tome cinquième (Paris: Gauthier-Villars et Fils, 1889), 94.

[17] Sold by Galerie Menes, Paris, in 2017 and currently in the collection of Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen.

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