La Négresse

Artist: Workshop of Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (French, Valenciennes 1827–1875 Courbevoie)

Date: 1872

Culture: French, Auteuil

Medium: Cast terracotta

Dimensions: Height: 24 in. (61 cm)

Classification: Sculpture

Credit Line: Gift of James S. Deely, 1997, in memory of Patricia Johnson Deely, 1997

Accession Number: 1997.491


Carpeaux and his atelier worked up a successful commercial edition of terracotta busts based on the bronze figures constituting his Four Parts of the World Sustaining the Globe, which is the central element of the fountain of the Observatory in the Luxembourg Gardens, Paris. The date of 1872 on this sensitively detailed example corresponds to that of the plaster model of the group shown in that year's Salon; the fountain itself was inaugurated in 1874. Carpeaux was a liberal romantic whose humanitarian sentiments are manifest in the Metropolitan Museum's bust derived from the fountain's figure of Africa. He added a Michelangelesque sideward turn, ropes across the chest that seem barely able to contain the young woman's energy, and the poignant inscription on the base: Pourquoi! Naître esclave! (Why born a slave?).