This beautiful bust of a young Chinese man, finely cast in bronze, represents a high point of Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux's small oeuvre of ethnographic sculpture.
Carpeaux made two versions of Le Chinois. The present model is cast after the first version, which was executed in 1868 and is distinguished from the 1872 variant by its sketchier, more spontaneous modelling. Carpeaux here captures the character of his sitter and approaches the scientific mastery of Cordier's ethnic busts. Very much a product of the vogue for orientalisme, the bust was developed as part of Carpeaux's monumental group Quatre Parties du Monde, commissioned by the city of Paris in 1867 as the crowning element of the architect Davioud's Fontaine de l'Observatoire.
The 1872 model, exhibited at the Salon that year and in Brussels in 1874, was edited in a reduction, and often paired with his Buste Négresse. Interestingly, when an 1868 model Buste Chinois appeared at auction in Amsterdam on October 19, 1874, it was already being differentiated as the 'sketch'.
Susse produced a catalogue specifically for works by Carpeaux, and they edited both versions of the Buste Chinois. Identified as model No. 1 and No. 2, they were listed in the catalogue as numbers 7 and 8 respectively. The 'sketch' in bronze appeared in the 1914 Susse catalogue with a price of 800 francs. Casts of the sketch in the present size are exceedingly rare.
P. Fusco and H. W. Janson, Romantics to Rodin, exh. cat. Los Angeles County Museum of Art in association with George Braziller, Inc., Los Angeles, 1980, pp. 154-5, cat. 41; M. Poletti and A. Richarme, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux sculpteur, Paris, 2003, p. 122, no. BU23 (esquisse); P. Cadet, Susse Frères: 150 Years of Sculpture, 1837-1987, ..., 1992, pp. 315-9, 371-2