Antoine-Louis Barye (1796-1875) was one of the great sculptors alongside David d'Angers and Rude. Born in Paris in September 1796, Barye was the son of a goldsmith from Lyon. At the age of thirteen he was apprenticed to Fourrier, an engraver of military equipment. Later he switched to the jewellery trade and learned the technique of moulding reliefs from his master Biennais, the master goldsmith to Napoléon. Barye's official schooling in sculpture began in 1816 under Bosio and soon after with Baton Gros. In these young years Barye observed the most sophisticated technical practices of the Parisian goldsmiths as well as encountering neo-classical and antique models, an influence that would have lasting effect.
In 1819 Barye took part in the competition of the Ecole des Beaux Arts and was runner up with a medallion of Milo of Croton. He won second prize in 1820 with his figure of Cain cursed by God. Barye worked with the goldsmith Fauconnier (1823-31) and continued to practise modelling in his spare time, studying ancient sculpture at the Louvre. The other experience of his youth which was essential to the older Barye, was his dedicated studies of wild animals in the Paris Zoo. All these varied interests were fused together in the driving ambition and creative energy of this remarkable sculptor to produce for the Salon of 1831 a work that laid siege to the Parisian sculptural establishment. The plaster model of 'Tiger Devouring a Gavial' was in every way unprecedented, and even the basically unsympathetic critic Delecluze was forced to admit that the group was 'the strongest and most significant work of sculpture in the whole Salon' - this marked the turning point in Barye s career. He established his own studio and was awarded the Legion of Honour in 1832, being raised to the grade of Officer in 1855. Under the Second Empire his reputation grew steadily. He obtained several important State commissions, became professor of drawing at the Museum (1854), won a large gold medal at the Exposition of 1855, and was elected to the Academy in 1867. Unfortunately the downfall of the empire of Napoléon III in 1870 adversely affected Barye's work, which included a series of Napoleonic statues which were hastily removed from public view.
Barye specialised in sculptures of animals and also produced many illustrations of the cruelty of nature, such as his royal stag brought down by Scottish hounds. The Victorians showed a particular fondness for what they considered to be the high morality of this type of animal drama by their favourite painters and sculptors, and it is an impressive indication of Barye's pure aesthetic qualities that his sculpture should have completely outlasted the tastelessness of the equivalent paintings. In a career spanning half a century Barye had a prodigious output of bronzes covering every aspect of animal life, from the domestic to the exotic, embued with a realism and naturalism and a meticulous attention to anatomical detail.
Cooper, Jeremy 19th Century Romantic Bronzes, French, English and American Bronzes, 1830-1915; New York Graphic Society, 1975
Arsene, Alexandre A.L. Barye Kessinger Publishing, 2010.
Kjellberg, Pierre Les Bronzes du XIX Siècle, Editions de l'Amateur, (Paris) 1987, pps. 54-84.