In the spring of 1871 Carpeaux and his family fled the bloody turmoil of the Paris Commune and took refuge in London. He was following in the footsteps of his great patron, the deposed Emperor Napoleon III. The sculptor installed his family in lodgings in Brompton Square and, deprived of his lucrative public commissions, he began to concentrate on a series of lyrical female figures intended to appeal to a wider market. One of the most notable models he produced in London was La Frileuse.
This newly-discovered life-size marble version of La Frileuse is unrecorded in the literature. However, it is known that Carpeaux intended to exhibit a version of the subject at the Royal Academy in 1871. Claude Jeancolas tells how it was refused by the jury as they did not recognise the sculpture as a work by the great French master. The president of the jury later visited Carpeaux to apologise in person for the oversight. It is possible that the present marble version is that intended by Carpeaux for the Royal Academy exhibition. It could have been made in the large studio the sculptor hired opposite Regents Park, where he also carved his Daphnis et Chloé for Lord Ashburton.
As a life-size marble, the present sculpture is extremely rare in the oeuvre of Carpeaux. Very fine chisel marks across the surface give the piece an air of spontaneity, which matches the lissom modelling of the nude and the blithe spirit of the subject. The sculptor captures a swooping movement as the girl curves and twists, her right foot raised entirely off the ground as she appears to jump from her tree-trunk seat.
In addition to the signature the marble is inscribed Boudet Paris. This inscription appears on another marble by Carpeaux – his Flore Accroupie in the collection of the Valenciennes Museum. In the 1978 catalogue of the collection this inscription was assumed to be the signature of a practicien. However, it is the mark of the Paris retailer the Maison Boudet and appears on numerous sculptures, clocks and pieces of furniture which passed through their hands. The retailer is recorded by Denise Ledoux-Lebrard as based at 43, boulevard des Capucines from 1886 and at 8, place Vendôme from 1908 until the outbreak of the First World War.
A 22cm clay sketch for La Frileuse is in the collection of the Valencienne Museum. It has sometimes been mistaken as a study for Carpeaux's Suzanne Surpris, edited a year later in 1872, but it depicts a standing figure, rather than a seated one, and the delicately turned nude, bent at the waist, very much recalls the present model. La Frileuse was produced as a commercial edition and the majority of the edition was produced by Carpeaux and his heirs in bronze and terracotta, whilst later, smaller editions were made by the founders Colin and the Susse frères. A small-scale bronze cast is in the collection of the Neue Pinakotek, Munich.
M. Poletti and A. Richarme, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux sculpteur, Paris, 2003, pp. 92-3, no. SE14; Neue Pinakothek: Katalog de Gemälde und Skulpturer, Munich, 2003, p. 46; A. Hardy & A. Braunwald, Catalogue des peintures et sculptures de Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux a Valenciennes, cat. Musée des beaux-arts, Valenciennes,1978, pp. 91-2, nos. 192 & 201-2 ; C. Jeancolas, Carpeaux, La farouche volonté d'être, Lausanne, 1987, pp. 164 ; D. Ledoux-Lebard, Le mobilier français du XIXe Siècle, 1795-1889, Paris, 1994, p. 95
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