Antoine-Louis Barye

French, 1796-1875

The master of masters who clung to nature with all the force and tenacity of a god and dominated everything. He was beyond all and outside of all art influences, save nature and the antique. He was one of, if not the most isolated artists that ever lived. Emphatically original, and the first in the world of that kind of originality, he was himself and himself alone… He is our great glory and we shall have to depend on him in coming generations.’ – Auguste Rodin

Barye was an artist of enormous complexity, who embodied many overlapping tendencies of his age – Romantic, Neo-Classical, Realist and Orientalist. As suggested in Rodin’s fulsome tribute, Barye showed the way for other sculptors both to find new, dynamic interpretations of traditional themes
and to break out into fresh subject matter, as in his purely ‘animalier’ pieces. Just as importantly, he was an independent spirit whose example demonstrated that new strategies could be invented for artists to conduct their careers.

The depiction of animals, directly and without obvious anthropomorphism or allegorical intent, was indeed one of Barye’s goals. Alongside Delacroix, he studied live animals, and dissected dead ones, making scientifically rigorous drawings and careful measurements, to gain total familiarity with animal structure and movements. His ‘bibles’ were the anatomical treaties by Cuvier, Lamarck and Buffon. In his final sculptures he encapsulated all his factual knowledge of his subject and was then able to expressively ‘distort’ the facts for the sake of re-animating his creatures with drama and vigour.

Antoine-Louis Barye’s beginnings as an artist were, to say the least, humble. After a basic education he was apprenticed to a die maker called Fourier and from this, developed an interest in working with metal. After spending two years in the army he entered the studios of Bosio, a typical academician. However, he soon became discontented with the style of work imposed upon him, and while still with Bosio he studied under Baron Gros whose work held more interest for Barye, as he had become more attracted to the broad free ideas of the romantic movement.

At the age of 23, Barye made his first entry at the Salon, in the section of medals and hoped to win a Prix de Rome. Although he received an honourable mention, it would be twelve years before he received recognition. By 1824 Barye’s domestic commitments, supporting a wife and family, required that he take a job with a fashionable goldsmith, Fauconier. A commission received through Fauconier for a stag led Barye to undertake a serious study of zoology and anatomy at the Jardin des Plantes. The head keeper at the Jardin des Plantes would inform Barye when an animal was about to die so that the artist could call to study closely the bone structure of the animal he could only normally sketch from behind bars.

By 1831 Barye left Fauconier and the same year his model of a “Tiger Devouring a Gavial” was well received by the public as was his “Lion Crushing a Serpent” the following year. These two dramatic pieces splendidly depict the combat of animals in the wild, a subject that was to appear frequently in Barye’s sculpture.

The 1830’s were a time of great success for Barye and the new monarch, Louis-Philippe, was an enthusiastic patron of the arts and his son, the Duc d’Orleans, commissioned Barye to produce a group of five dramatic hunt scenes, each one depicting on the great game animals, which Barye carried out between 1834 and 1838. These unique pieces are now included in the collection of the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. Barye’s work was extremely popular with the affluent classes, particularly as many of his subjects featured ‘the chase’, a strongly followed pastime.

Although Barye was celebrated by the public, his work was little appreciated by the art establishment of the time. Along with such romantics as Delacroix, Barye’s work became completely closed out of the Salon by 1837, so in 1839 he opened his own studio and was able to produce bronzes for sale direct to the public. However, important commissions still came to Barye through the mid-nineteenth century including a monumental Lion for the Tuileries Gardens and “Roger Abducting Angelique on a Hippogriff” for the Duc de Montpensier.

With the change of establishment at the Salon after 1848, Barye resumed submitting work and in 1850 his “Theseus Slaying the Centaur” was received with triumph. Five years later this piece won the grand medal of sculpture at the Exposition Universelle. In 1854, Barye was appointed Professor of Zoological Drawing at the Jardin des Plantes and pupils of Barye’s during this period included Rodin and Emmanuel Fremiet.

As the father of the ‘Animalier’ movement, Barye spawned many imitators, yet, his unique style and variety of subjects made his work highly sought after not only in France but also in America. Both during and shortly after Barye’s lifetime a number of large and important collections were formed in the USA, the most notable being the aforementioned Walters Art Gallery collection. From humble beginnings as a metalworker, Barye reached the heights of artistic development and success in a career spanning 56 years. Barye died in Paris in 1875 at the age of 79.

9123Antoine-Louis Barye

Gnu, c. 1840

Antoine-Louis Barye

A rare good quality nineteenth century bronze model of a ‘ Gnu’, by Antoine-Louis Barye, French (1796-1875). This bronze, signed ‘Barye’, was cast in the […]

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