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. A versatile, 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 1870's he trained at the Ecole 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 proponents of the Art Nouveau style in Paris. He desinged numerous interiors, notably for Adrien Benard, president of the Societe du Metropolitaine, the same man who comissioned Hector Guimard to create the famous Metro entrances. Charpentier also collaborated with Felix Bracquemond and Jules Cheret on a billard room for the Baron Vita.
Charpentier had three main subjects for his sculptures, materinity and children, labor, and portraits. In his mnumerous sculptures of domestic scenes and portraits Charpentier often used his own family as the models. Such is the case in the plaquette Jean et Pierre, sculpted in 1892, which depicts the artist's son and nephew. It was shown in the 1893 Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels 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 these 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 that the Eiffel Tower issued as a popular souvenir for visitors and tourists ascending the tower, to engineers and doctors in such works as 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-siecle Paris. Foremost among his sitters was his friend, the novellist, critic and polemical journalist Emile Zola, whose portrait is shown in several media, including pate de verre. Other leading personalities portrayed by Charpentier in low relief include Paul Margueritte and Camille Pissarro.
In the 1890's Charpentier became a founding member of "L'Art dans Tout" ("Art in Everything"), a 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 French furniture maker Tony Selmersheim, is an exceptional example of Charpentier's efforts to unite sculpture and the decorative arts.