A monument to Antoine Louis Barye

Fig. 1. Monument à Barye, by Stanislas Louis Bernier (1845 -1919), 1891-1892. Inscribed "dresser par l'architecte/Louis Bernier" at lower right. Watercolor on paper, 20 by 13 7⁄8 inches. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.

 

 

It is possible that Barye had an ulterior motive in producing Lion and Serpent. The symbolic connections between lions and royalty are familiar, but the sculpture bears more particular associations with the July Monarchy (1830-1848) of Louis Philippe, for it was the revolution on July 27 to 29, 1830, that overthrew the last of the Bourbon kings and brought the House of Orléans to power. These three days fell under the astrological signs of Leo and the Hydra, which are represented by a lion and serpent, respectively.

Perhaps because Lion and Serpent was one of his most popular sculptures, Barye reworked it twice, and each of the three versions was cast in a range of sizes. In what is thought to have been his favorite rendering, now known as Lion and Serpent No. 3 (Sketch) (Fig. 8), the lion backs away from the threatening snake and rather than crushing it beneath his paw, prepares to strike it. A loose sheet of sketches illustrates the artist's development of this composition (Fig. 4).

Barye's development as an animalier can be traced to his employment from 1820 to 1828 with the master goldsmith Jacques Henri Fauconnier (1779-1839). At the Exposition des produits de l'industrie française in Paris in 1823, Fauconnier exhibited a large vase decorated with lion motifs2 as well as an array of some sixty small animal subjects-all said to have been modeled by Barye. In the same year, when he was requested to produce a model of a deer to serve as a handle for a soup tureen, Barye chose to work directly from nature in the Jardin des Plantes-the Paris zoological and botanical gardens-rather than merely repeat the forms traditionally found in rococo silver. Poverty-stricken at this time, he managed to gain access to the animal cages at five o'clock each morning through the generosity of a sympathetic keeper who also provided him with food originally intended for the bears. For the remainder of his career, Barye frequented the Jardin des Plantes to study and sketch both living animals and corpses. From 1854 until his death, he served as professor of zoological drawing in the Jardin's natural history department, and counted Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) among his pupils.3 Barye's numerous drawings in sketchbooks or on separate scraps of paper attest to both his scrupulous attention to detail and the acuteness of his observations (Fig. 5). So sound was his knowledge of the anatomy of animals that he had little difficulty in modeling subjects such as the Lion and Serpent, which portrays a combat that he could never actually have witnessed, especially since he never left Paris and its immediate environs.

Discouraged by the jury's rejection of several of his hunt groups for the duc d'Orléans centerpiece at the Salon of 1837 and of five other works in 1843, Barye refused to participate in the Salons for thirteen years. Instead, he devoted himself to working as a bronzier, creating models for small sculptures that could be issued in multiple editions to serve as ornaments in the houses of his clientele, the rapidly expanding French bourgeoisie. In doing so, rather than casting the pieces solely by himself, he relied on the numerous recently established foundries in Paris that specialized in artistic bronzes. Using sand-casting as opposed to the more costly lost-wax process and working with the Collas machine, a pantographic device that transferred a design from an original model to a scaled version, these foundries were able to reproduce works in various sizes.4 In 1845, out of financial necessity, Barye was obliged to enter into partnership with an engineer and entrepreneur, Émile Martin (1794-1871), to establish Barye et Compagnie, a commercial enterprise that was largely controlled by Martin. Through this agreement, which remained in effect for twelve years, Barye supplied the models and Martin was responsible for engaging the foundries, hiring the chasers, gilders, and specialists in mounting bronzes; and for marketing the sculptures.

At the top of the monument on the Île Saint-Louis was an enlarged version of Centaur and Lapith, a work that Barye had conceived between 1846 and 1848 (Fig. 2) and exhibited as a plaster in a somewhat more compressed upright form at the Salon of 1850 (see Fig. 9), his first Salon in many years. The Salon version, commissioned by the new republican government in 1849, served as the basis for the monumental bronze, nearly thirteen feet in height, that was produced by the foundry of Ferdinand Barbedienne for the Île Saint-Louis monument. Barbedienne had purchased many of Barye's original models at the sale of the artist's estate in 1876.5 Although Barye listed the sculpture in his later sales catalogues as Theseus and the Centaur Bianor, the initial literary source is a story in  Ovid's Metamorphoses (12:342-350), in which the Lapiths, a mythical people of ancient Thessaly, battle the bestial centaurs, who had become inebriated at a wedding feast and attempted to abduct the bride and female guests. The Lapith, represented as a classical nude hero, straddles the centaur's back and grasps his neck, preparing to deliver a mortal blow with his club.

In addition to Centaur and Lapith, Barye entered a second plaster at the Salon of 1850, Jaguar Devouring a Hare (see Fig. 12).6 The critics acclaimed both works, however different in their subject and style, as masterpieces of modern sculpture. The poet and writer Théophile Gautier (1811-1872), for instance, contrasted Barye's fresh interpretation of the antique with the debased classicism practiced by the sculptors of the Académie des beaux-arts, the bastion of academic conservatism. He praised Centaur and Lapith as "the triumph of the spirit over material...over the voracious world of animal instinct."7 By contrast, in Jaguar Devouring a Hare he saw "an evocation of the Sublime, particularly those terrifying, brutal laws of nature over which man has little control."8 

Set on the lateral projections of the Barye memorial were two allegorical groups carved in marble, Force Protecting Work and Order Punishing Perversity, which were later known simply as Force (see Fig. 15) and Order (see Fig. 16). Each is composed of a seated heroic male figure and a standing youth, both posed against a reclining animal, a lion in Force and a roaring tiger in Order. These groups were reductions of Barye's stone sculptures at the attic level of the Pavilion Denon of the Louvre. Another pair, representing War and Peace, stands across the courtyard in a corresponding position on the facade of the Pavilion Richelieu. The four works had been commissioned in 1854 by Hector Martin Lefuel (1810-1880), the successor to Louis Visconti (1791-1853) as the architect of the "New Louvre"-the two wings connecting the "Old Louvre" to the Palais des Tuileries.

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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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