Alexandre Dumas fils

Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux French

Not on view

Carpeaux was a phenomenally talented portraitist, and in the French author and playwright Alexandre Dumas (Paris 1824 – Marly-le-Roi 1895) he seems to have found an ideal sitter. Dumas and Carpeaux were close companions whose friendship spanned many years and life events. Just three years before his untimely passing, Carpeaux received a commission from the French state to create a portrait of Dumas père for the foyer of the Comédie Française, home to a pantheon of likenesses of great French dramatists. The portrait was never realized, however, in 1873, Carpeaux had begun plans to create a bust of the younger Dumas as a companion to that of the father. Work unfolded over numerous sittings at the artist’s studio, and the final result was greeted with ecstatic praise by Dumas. An inscription on the socle attests to their friendship: “All sommo Pensieroso / Alexandre Dumas fils / Suo amico / JBt Carpeaux 1873”.



The bust exemplifies Carpeaux’s original approach to the genre of portraiture, as he captures the lively countenance of his famous sitter with bold confidence and élan. It further stands out as an exceptionally rare example of a nineteenth-century portrait of a known, celebrated person of African descent. Dumas fils is the grandson of Thomas-Alexandre Dumas (1762-1806), the first Black general in the French army. Born in Saint-Domingue to a French noble father (Alexandre-Antoine Davy) and enslaved Black mother (Marie Cessette Dumas), Thomas followed his father back to France. His son, Alexandre Dumas père (1802-1870), was the acclaimed author of The Three Musketeers and Count of Monte Christo. Dumas fils followed in his father’s literary footsteps, gaining prominence for his novel La Dame aux Camélias (1848), which he adapted into a play that inspired the libretto for Verdi’s opera, La Traviata (1853) and, furthermore, has been widely cited as a source for Manet’s Olympia (1863).

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