Antoine Louis Barye

1796- 1875

Antoine Louis Barye was an accomplished artist and sculptor. Barye’s work is almost exclusively studies of wild animals, but he also produced equestrian groups as well as mythological figures. His animal sculptures are usually of a violent nature, his models are technically competent and based on studies of actual wild animals, both living and dead, at the Jardin de Plantes, the botanical garden in Paris where he spent much of his time.

Antoine Louis Barye was born in Paris, France on September 24th, 1796. Barye began his career as a goldsmith and studied under sculptor Francois-Joseph Bosio and painter Baron Antoine- Jean Gros. In 1818 he was admitted to the École des Beaux Arts. In the following years he discovered his passion for drawing animals at the Jardin des Plantes, later transforming his visions into sculptures.

Barye's first Salon exhibit, The Milo of Croton, in 1819 was awarded the second prize, but many of his later entries were turned down. At the 1831 Salon, Barye exhibited his masterpiece, Tiger Devouring a Gavial, which was bought for the Luxembourg Gardens and now resides in the Louvre. By 1832 he had mastered a style of his own, exhibiting Lion and Snake. Barye began exhibiting year after year these studies of animals. The animal groups reveal him as inspired by a spirit of true romance, as in his Roger and Angelica on the Hippogriff cast in 1840, drawn from an episode in Orlando furioso, and a feeling for the beauty of the antique, as in Theseus and the Minotaur cast in 1847. Barye was no less successful in sculpture on a small scale, and excelled in representing animals in their most familiar attitudes. Examples of his larger work include the Lion of the Column of July, of which the plaster model was cast in 1839, various lions and tigers in the gardens of the Tuileries, and the four groups--War, Peace, Strength, and Order cast in 1854.

Even though Barye attained much commercial success with his bronzes and monuments, the committee of the Salon refused many of his entries in 1836. This angered Barye so much that he refused to exhibit at the Salon again until 1851. His Royal and State monumental commissions, as well as the patronage of the Duke of Orleans, and the Dukes of Luynes, Montpensier, and Nemours, allowed him to hire the finest foundry craftsmen in Paris and turn his hand to producing his smaller bronze models himself in his own foundry. Even though the period from 1837 to 1848 is considered by most to be the zenith of Barye's career, he was not financially successful. It was during this time that he started cold stamping his casts, giving each one a unique cast number. Many times Barye would not let a bronze leave his studio or be sold until he felt it had been perfected. Barye’s obsession with perfection and reluctance to sell unfinished works, coupled with the financial crises and Revolution of 1848 forced to declare bankruptcy. His plasters, models, and the rights to produce them were sold to pay his debts. The casts made by Martin, Barbedienne, and others using Barye’s original plasters produced from 1848 to 1857 are not as well executed and are easily distinguishable from Barye’s earlier casts.

After the bankruptcy and loss of his models in 1848, Barye became the Director of Casts and Models at the Louvre, staying until 1850. In 1851, Barye resumed exhibiting at the Salon with the piece “Jaguar Devouring a Hare.” He was appointed Professor of Drawings at the Museum of Natural History at the Jardin de Plantes in 1854, a post he held until his death. By 1857, Barye was able to pay off his debts of the last 10 years and regain control of the casts and models which he was forced to give up. Barye again set to casting his works himself but his newly found success and the many State Commissions that he was awarded took up a great deal of his time.

It was during the later part of his life that Barye was given the many honors and awards. In 1855, and again in 1867 at the age of 71, he was awarded the Grand Medal at the Exposition Universelle in Paris for his works. He was elevated to the rank of Officer in the Legion d'Honneur, was named the first president of the Central Union of Beaux Arts and was appointed a Member of the Institute of France.

Barye produced no new works after 1869. Following his death in 1875 most of his plasters and models were purchased by Ferdinand Barbedienne, the famous founder whose had earlier reproduced Barye’s works during his bankruptcy. Barbedienne continued casting bronzes from Barye's original master models until after the turn of the century. All of these later, posthumous, casts are marked F. Barbedienne Founder. The casts were done with extreme attention to detail and carried on Barye's keen interest in multicolored patinas on the works. Today, most of Barye's plasters and models are the property of the Louvre. The mass of admirable work left by Barye entitles him to be regarded as one of the great animal life artists of the French school, and the refiner of a class of art which has attracted such men as Emmanuel Frémiet, Peter, Cain, and Gardet.


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