A monument to Antoine Louis Barye

From The Magazine ANTIQUES, October 2006

In June 18, 1894, a crowd gathered in the small park on the southeastern tip of the Île Saint-Louis in Paris to listen to Eugène Guillaume (1822-1905) dedicate a monument (Fig. 3) to Antoine Louis Barye, the French sculptor and painter who, during the second and third quarters of the nineteenth century, had popularized the art of the animalier, or specialist in animal subjects, in both France and abroad. Guillaume, an academic sculptor, had served as the titular president of the committee that erected the memorial, but much of the organizational work, including raising funds and overseeing construction, had fallen to an American expatriate, George A. Lucas (1824-1909). Indeed, the execution of the project, which was largely dismantled during World War II, represented the combined efforts of Barye's French friends and staunch American admirers.

The architect Stanislas Louis Bernier conceived the design for the monument as a pier with three extensions at its base, each supporting a sculpture (Fig. 1). A portrait medallion of Barye based on a plaster model provided by the sculptor Laurent Honoré Marqueste (1848-1920) was set in the middle of the sixteen-foot-tall shaft. The other sculptural elements represented four of Barye's most renowned compositions, each dating from a critical moment in his career. Resting on the front projection was an over life-sized, posthumous bronze cast of Lion and Serpent, a subject he had begun work on in 1832 and first exhibited as a plaster (along with nine other smaller works) at the Paris Salon of 1833 (see Fig. 6). The Lion and Serpent was significant on a number of levels. In the emotional intensity of the subject and its terrifying realism it confirmed Barye's role as an avant-garde romantic artist, and it also served to elevate animal subjects, as opposed to human figurative themes, to a level of public acceptance that was without precedent. Not only was Barye awarded the cross of the Legion of Honor for his Salon entries, but at the behest of the king, Louis Philippe (r. 1830-1848), the state purchased the plaster and commissioned a marble version. The sculptor subsequently produced a bronze that was exhibited in 1836 and installed that year in the gardens of the Palais des Tuileries,1 where it fueled the controversy in academic circles regarding the elevated position then being given to animal subjects. Nonetheless, the success of Lion and Serpent assured Barye the patronage of members of the royal family, the most significant being a commission for five exotic hunt groups for the celebrated table centerpiece for Ferdinand Philippe (1810-1842), duc d'Orléans (see Fig. 7).

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[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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