Jean Carriès produced this self-portrait in wax at the age of about 32. He is just as his friends describe him : fierce facial traits, a sombre gaze, tools in hand, felt hat permanently on his head…
Wax was one of his favourite materials. The Petit Palais has the good fortune to have kept six of his spectacular waxworks. Few sculptors of his time dared to use this material on such a scale for a completed work. The pattern of slits which is so clearly visible is in fact due to the material’s age. The wax is dyed, partly stamped in a mould, partly modelled, and fixed onto a plaster and oakum core, or covers a base made of curved wood.
To make this highly realistic work, Carriès had casts taken of hands (maybe his own), his torso “with a smock and arms”, which he undoubtedly reused here. But at the same time this is also a dream portrait. The artist is surrounded by the things that had meaning for him : a death mask called Carriès’ Mother, a fantasy figure reminiscent of the imaginary busts he created, and already, two strange animals prefiguring those of the Monumental Door, his great unfinished work.
As a beautiful tribute by his friends, a bronze copy of this self-portrait can be seen at the artist’s grave at the Père-Lachaise Cemetery.