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Recent Acquisitions - 11 of 12

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Mater Dolorosa by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux

Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux
French, 1827–1875
Mater Dolorosa
White marble
27 9/16 x 19 5/16 x 13 3/8 in. (34 x 70 x 49 cm)
Acquired by the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 2007

This magnificent sculpture is one of Carpeaux’s most moving works, his last great marble. Notwithstanding its religious title (Our Lady of Sorrows), the work grew out of a quotidian experience in the streets of Paris: Carpeaux encountered a former model grieving over the death of her child. He took her to his studio and created this extraordinarily expressive bust—“a head in tears, face emaciated, with a sincere attitude of maternal sadness, and the true tears of a mother,” in the words of one contemporary observer. Versions in plaster, bronze, and terra cotta exist, but this marble is unique. It drew wide acclaim when Carpeaux exhibited it at the Salon of 1870. Critics admired its naturalism while recognizing its debt to such earlier masters as Bernini. Despite such enthusiasm, Carpeaux was unable to find a buyer during the tumultuous years of the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune. He took Mater Dolorosa with him while in exile in London; upon his return to France, he donated the bust in 1873 to a fund-raiser for war refugees from Alsace-Lorraine (he no doubt felt its moving subject was appropriate to such a cause).