Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux is gloriously uncategorizable

4a._carpeaux_the_prince_imperial_with_the_dog_nero_musee_dorsay_0Jed Perl at The New Republic:

Carpeaux reminds us that many of the experiences that matter most—certainly many of the artistic experiences that matter most—can’t be fit into column A or column B, as if they were answers filled out on a multiple choice test. This man who went through the rigors of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts (the mother of all art academies), competed for all the prestigious prizes, and after many frustrations ultimately won the Prix de Rome, loved the art of the past with a passion so overheated that it freed him from conventional academic thinking. For Carpeaux, tradition wasn’t rules and regulations, but the supernatural heroism of Michelangelo and Raphael, which astonished him when he finally reached Rome in 1856. It may be Carpeaux’s yearning for an unattainable heroic power that gives his work its captivating energy and anxiety. His mythic protagonists aren’t quite as dramatically dark as Delacroix’s. His countesses aren’t quite as sublimely sensuous as Ingres’s. What Carpeaux gives us instead is the ordeal of the nineteenth-century imagination—the imagination that reaches for an ultimate greatness that remains just beyond his grasp. You can’t quite explain the particular quality of this work, which is by turns romantic and realist and classic and sometimes simultaneously all of the above. You feel that unresolvable power in every gallery of this remarkable retrospective. The exhibition has a terrific title—“The Passions of Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux”—but it could as easily have been called “The Ambiguities of Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux.”

more here.