Today's Hours
Museum: Closed
Gardens: 7:00 AM - 5:30 PM
Today's Hours
Museum: Closed
Gardens: 7:00 AM - 5:30 PM
Mene, P.J.
(1810-1879)
Collection: European Collection
Specialty: Sculpture
View Artwork
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