Alexandre-Louis-Marie Charpentier was a pivotal figure in the movement to unite the fine and decorative arts in France at the end of the 19th century. Aversatile, largely self-taught artist, Charpentier was a medalist, sculptor, and designer. Born in 1856 in a working class neighborhood in Paris, he was apprenticed to a decorative engraver at the age of twelve. In the 1870s he trained at the École des Beaux-Arts under the renowned medalist Hubert Ponscarme. Charpentier worked almost exclusively in low relief. He first exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1879 and regularly showed his work at such well-established venues, but he also participated in avant-garde artists’ circles in Brussels, Vienna, and Paris. He experimented with innovative formats, styles, and subjects in a wide range of materials, including the common bronze, silver, terracotta and plaster, and the more unusual alloys, pressed paper, and pâte de verre.
Charpentier excelled at all aspects of decoration including furniture, interior design, metal designs, ceramics and leather objects. He had a feel for volume, a baroque sentiment and a vivid imagination that made him one of the best representations of the Art Nouveau style in Paris. He designed numerous interiors, notably for Adrien Bénard president of the Société du Métropolitain, the same man who commissioned Hector Guimard to create the famous Métro entrances. Charpentier also collaborated on a billiard room for the Baron Vitta with Bracquemond and Jules Chéret.
Charpentier had three main subjects of his sculptures, Maternity and Children, Labor, and portraits. When he created sculptures of domestic scenes and portraits he often used his own family as the models. In his numerous sculptures of domestic scenes and portraits Charpentier often used his own family as the models. Such is the case in the plaquette Jean and Pierre sculpted in 1892 which depicts the artist’s son and nephew, shown in the exhibition as the decorative cover of a wooden pencil box. The famous work Maternity from 1882 is an iconic image of a young mother nursing her child. Charpentier took a broad approach to the theme of labor, a popular subject in 19th-century art. His subjects range from manual laborers, such as three iron riveters who appear on a small silver medal Eiffel Tower issued as a popular souvenir for visitors and tourists ascending the tower, to engineers and doctors in the works Dr. Paul Segond in the Delivery Room and Dr. Charles Monod Performing Surgery, created in 1905 and 1906 respectively. A masterful portraitist, Charpentier depicted many luminaries of vibrant fin-de-siècle Paris. Foremost among his sitters was his friend the novelist, critic, and polemical journalist Emile Zola, whose portrait is shown in several media including pâte de verre. Other leading personalities portrayed by Charpentier in low relief include Paul Margueritte and Camille Pissarro.
In the 1890s Charpentier became a founding member of "L’Art dans tout" (Art in Everything), an artists’ group of interior designers, furniture makers, painters, and architects. The Flight of Time from 1899, a rare, ornate, art nouveau clock that Charpentier created in collaboration with the French furniture maker Tony Selmersheim, is an exceptional example of Charpentier’s efforts to unite sculpture and the decorative arts.