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P.J. Mene
(1810-1879)
 Collection:  European Collection
 Specialty:  Sculpture
   Pierre-Jules Mene was born in Paris on March 25, 1810, the son of a
   prosperous metal-turner. His father trained him in metal-working
   techniques and the boy quickly put them together with his own natural
   talent for drawing and began creating small sculptures. The young Mene
   never attended any of the well-known schools and seems to have been
   largely self-taught as an artist, though he received some training from
   sculptor Rene Compaire. After his marriage at age 22, Mene, like many of
   the other famous 19th century sculptors, including Barye, Dalou, and
   Rodin, began his career as an ornamiste, making ornamental models
   for porcelain manufacturers, creating clock decorations, and doing some
   small commercial bronzes.

   Always an astute businessman, in 1837 Mene established the first of what
   would be a series of foundries to cast his sculptures. The following year,
   he made his debut at the Paris Salon with a piece called Dog and
   Fox. Two years later, he showed several pieces there, including
   Horse Attacked by a Wolf. From that point on, he regularly
   exhibited at the Salon, eventually winning four awards: a 2 nd class medal
   in 1848, a first-class in 1852 and 1861, and a third class in 1855. He was
   extremely popular in England as well as France, winning medals at the
   London Exhibitions of 1855 and 1861. One English review in 1851 praised
   him "for the perfection in modeling the figures of animals and for the
   truth and beauty of his representations". In 1861, his reputation was
   secured by his induction into the Legion d'Honneur.

   To some extent, the road to his success had been cleared for him by his
   friend and fellow sculptor, Antoine-Louis Barye. Fourteen years older,
   Barye had had to struggle for both critical and public success when he
   began exhibiting his naturalistic animals in the 1820s and early 1830s.
   The term les animaliers  was originally conceived by critics as a
   slur on Barye's work which departed from classical and academic norms. But
   Mene rapidly became the most successful and popular animalier  of
   his time; art expert James Mackay suggests, "Mene is perhaps, after Barye,
   the most widely known of the Animaliers  and the sculptor whose
   work, more than any others, set the standard for the Animalier
   school".

   Mene's work captured the more delicate side of nature, most often
   concerning itself with domestic animals in tranquility and specializing in
   horses and dogs. Like another extremely popular animalier, Rosa
   Bonheur, Mene tended to work in the juste milieu, an artistic
   method which blended romantic and naturalistic elements while retaining
   some traditional conventions, thus rendering the work more palatable to
   conservative tastes. Scholar Jeremy Cooper points out, "Mene's message was
   refreshingly simple and direct when the rest of the arts were at a low ebb
   in terms of aesthetic sensitivity."

   In addition, Mene's early training in metal-working made him conversant
   with all aspects of foundry work, enabling him to turn out large editions
   of his pieces at his own foundries while ensuring that the models and
   casts were kept in such excellent condition throughout that the last
   edition was as sharp and detailed as the first. Mackay declares:

   . . his autograph work is outstanding for the delicacy and sensitivity
   of the modeling and the extremely meticulous after work. This is evident
   in the amount of fine detail and the skill with which finely chiseled
   lines may be seen in Mene's autograph bronzes.

   Mene issued his own catalogues, featuring casts from among the more than
   150 subjects he modeled and eventually selling thousands of small statues.

   Yet another reason for his popularity was his personality. Mene was
   extremely out-going and convivial. His home became a gathering place for
   painters, musicians, and fellow sculptors, making him well-known and liked
   throughout the artistic circles of Paris. His personality was such that he
   could mix easily with intellectuals in a social situation and yet be
   equally comfortable donning a leather apron and working alongside his
   foundry employees.

   Toward the end of his life, Mene taught his son-in-law, Auguste Cain, who
   was also an animalier, how to manage his foundries. Subsequently,
   Cain continued to cast Mene's work for two years after his death, turning
   out the sort of flawless pieces upon which his father-in-law and mentor
   had always insisted. In 1892, when Cain died, the last of Mene's foundries
   was closed and the remainder of his models sold to the Susse Freres
   foundry which continued to cast Mene's statues with the foundry seal
   impressed into them well into the twentieth century. Today, examples of
   Mene's work reside in venues around the world, including museums such as
   the Ashmolean, the Louvre, the Metropolitan, and the R.W. Norton Art
   Gallery.

   Everl Adair, Director of Research and Rare Collections

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