Carolus-Duran studied art in Paris after having moved there in 1853 to enrol at the Académie Suisse. He completed his studies in Rome and in Spain. He made his Paris Salon debut in 1886 with Evening Prayer, a painting sent to the Salon while he was in Italy. He returned to Paris in or around 1869 and devoted himself primarily to portraiture, quickly building a reputation. Together with Meissenier and Puvis de Chavannes, Carolus-Duran was a founder member of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and served as its president in 1898. He was appointed to membership of the Institute and principal of the French College in Rome in 1905. Carolus-Duran was a Grand Officier of the Légion d'Honneur.
In addition to his portraiture, Carolus-Duran exhibited historical subjects, landscapes and genre compositions. He even tried his hand at sculpture and exhibited pieces at the 1873 and 1874 Paris Salons. Some of his realist canvases, such as his Convalescent of 1861, betray the influence of Gustave Courbet, whereas his numerous portraits attest to the influence of Velázquez, Van Dyke and, albeit to a lesser degree, the Impressionists, notably his 1869 portrait of Madame Feydeau, that of Madame de Lancey or those of his wife, whom he nicknamed La Belle Croizette. His decorative compositions, exemplified by a Glory of Maria de Medici for the ceiling of the Louvre, are generally less well-regarded.
In 2003, several exhibitions were devoted to his work: a retrospective at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Lille and at the Musée des Augustins in Toulouse; a selection of his portraits in Carolus Duran and Entourage at the Fine Arts Museum in Tourcoing; and Modern Friendships from Rodin to Matisse: Carolus-Duran and the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts from 1890 to 1905, an exhibition held at the André Diligent Museum of Art and Industry in Roubaix.
Museum and Gallery Holdings
Chambéry (MBA): Mountain Lake
Florence (Uffizi): Countess Berta Vandal (1878)
Lille: Assassinated (1866); Madame Feydeau; Lady with Dog (1870)
Paris (Mus. d'Orsay): Convalescent (1861); Lady with a Glove (1869)
Paris (Mus. du Petit Palais): Madame de Lancey (1876)
Tokyo (National Mus. of Western Art): Madame Georges Feydeau and her Children