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Antoine-Louis Barye
(1796-1875)
 Collection:  European Collection
 Specialty:  Paintings  Sculpture
   Antoine-Louis Barye, the famous French animal sculptor and painter, has
   often been perceived as a link between Romanticism and the Barbizon School
   of art. Born the son of a jeweler in Paris in 1796, he was apprenticed at
   thirteen to an engraver of military equipment, then to a jeweler, but at
   the age of sixteen, was conscripted to the map department during
   Napoleon's last military venture. While serving in the National Guard, he
   met a sculptor who encouraged him in his artistic aspirations. As a
   result, when he left the military, he studied with the Italian sculptor
   Bozio and the painter Gros. Neither impressed him much and, having become
   obsessed with wild animals, he began a self-study of various naturalists
   and managed to gain entry to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts where he competed
   unsuccessfully for the Prix de Rome.

   In 1819, he won a second place for sculpture in a competition with a
   bas-relief medal showing Milo of Crotona being devoured by a lion.
   However, though he continued to compete, he won little and, needing to
   support himself and his family, went to work for the jeweler Fauconnier in
   1823 where he remained for the next eight years, making jewelry and small
   figures based on the animal figures that obsessed him. He read natural
   science texts and attended dissections so that his work would be as
   realistic as possible. Along with his new friend, Eugene Delacroix, he
   began haunting the Jardin des Plantes, making sketches and wax sculptures
   of the exotic animals there. Eventually, a few of these were reproduced in
   bronze in limited editions and began being collected by the Orleanists,
   including the Duc d'Orleans, the Duc de Nemours, and the Duc de Luynes.

   Though he continued to submit work, it wasn't until 1831 that he had
   another work accepted at the Salon; "Tiger Devouring a Gavial at the
   Ganges " was a sensation and won a Second Medal. He did well again in the
   Salon of 1833 with "Lion Crushing a Serpent" and received his first
   commission for a public statue. However, he was consistently attacked by
   conservative critics who felt that his "overly" naturalistic animals
   departed from classical models. They coined the term "animalier" as
   an insult to Barye, but it quickly came the accepted term for a popular
   branch of art and Barye's artistic heirs, like Pierre-Jules Mene and Rosa
   Bonheur, were proud to call themselves so.

   Throughout the early 1830s, the Duc d'Orleans supported Barye's work, even
   to the extent of having him made a member of the Legion d'Honneur. That
   success enabled him to purchase a cottage at Barbizon where he began to
   spend every summer and autumn, becoming close friends with the members of
   the Barbizon School. With the inspiration of these newfound companions, he
   began painting more and his sketches in the Forest of Fontainebleau helped
   him design imaginary landscapes for his paintings of lions, jaguars, and
   other exotic animals that he had never been able to see in their native
   environment.

   In 1834, the Duc commissioned an elaborate surtout de table, or
   table decoration from him. Barye worked on it for three years, creating
   five hunt groups and four animal combat groups. However, when he submitted
   it to the Salon in 1837, it was refused. Barye refused to submit anything
   else to the Salon for the next ten years. Turning away from official
   acceptance, he decided instead to take his work directly to the public. In
   1839, he borrowed money and established his first workshop, issuing sales
   catalogues and overseeing the casting of his models. His perfectionism,
   which made for good art, made for bad business, and in 1848, he was forced
   to declare bankruptcy, losing all of his models and tools to his
   creditors.

   Fortunately, later in 1848, things finally began to turn around for him.
   Political unrest under Louis Philippe created a broad alliance of various
   parties united against the monarchy and finally led to the 1848
   Revolution. Louis Napoleon, who would soon make himself Emperor Napoleon
   III, was elected to power and the new Minister of the Interior proved to
   be more progressive in his artistic views than those of the past. The
   state bought Barye's "Tiger eating a crocodile" and his other sculptures
   finally began to get their due. He received an imperial commission from
   the government to produce four allegorical groups for the Louvre and a
   bas-relief of Napoleon III on horseback. In 1855, he won the grand gold
   medal of honor at the Exposition Universalle and was made an officer of
   the Legion d'Honneur. A year earlier, in 1854, he was offered the position
   of Professor of Zoological Drawing at the Museum of Natural History which
   he would hold until his death in 1875.

   For the posthumous exhibition held after his death, critic Charles Blanc
   wrote:

   He was a patient anatomist, a romantic with classical knowledge. He had
   studied in depth proportions of men and animals, the anatomy based on
   knowledge of the skeleton, the measurement of bones, the dissection of
   animals. He modeled each part separately . . . Barye's animals were as
   beautiful by the grandeur of their silhouette as by the details rendered
   with such energy.

   His legacy remains in the meticulous bronzes and detailed paintings
   collected in major art museums throughout the world, including the R.W.
   Norton Art Gallery.

   Everl Adair, Director of Research and Rare Collections

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