Today's Hours
Museum: 10:00 AM - 7:00 PM
Gardens: 7:00 AM - 5:30 PM
Today's Hours
Museum: 10:00 AM - 7:00 PM
Gardens: 7:00 AM - 5:30 PM
Barye, Antoine-Louis
(1796-1875)
Collection: European Collection
Specialties: Paintings, Sculpture
View Artwork
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