Displaying an eclectic independence from mainstream academic conventions, Jean-Joseph Carriès imbued his subjects with inner life and contorted emotion. His fractured early family life and a perpetual afflication with self-doubt may have contributed to his original expressions of mood.
Carriès grew up in an orphanage after the age of six. He began his artistic education creating religious images in a sculptor's studio at thirteen. In 1874 he joined the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris as a probationary pupil, but his irregular attendance resulted in failing the admission tests. Nevertheless, he made his Salon debut the following year. His sculpture was well received; his allegorical heads depicting particular emotions and states of mind, named "the hopeless," "the disinherited," and "the strays" by a contemporary poet, especially earned praise from the art critics. Working mostly in bronze, he also created historical representations, portraits of contemporaries, and heads of babies.
In 1889 Carriès retreated to the Loire Valley to devote himself to his life-long interest in ceramics. Setting up his own factory, he embarked on his most ambitious project: a monumental Symbolist doorway commissioned by a princess for the room in which she kept her treasured manuscript of Richard Wagner's opera Parsifal.