Antoine-Louis Barye

Antoine-Louis Barye (French, 1796-1895) is regarded as one of the greatest animal sculptors of all time.

His beginnings as an artist were humble.  After a basic education, he was apprenticed to a die maker where he developed an interest in working with metal.  After spending two years in the army, he entered the studios of a sculptor in the academic style.  He soon became discontented with the style imposed upon him, and became more attracted to the broad free ideas of the Romantic movement.

At the age of 23, Barye made his first entry at the Salon and hoped to win a Prix de Rome. Although he received an honorable mention, it would be twelve years before he received recognition.  By 1824, Barye's domestic commitments, supporting a wife and family, required that he take a job with a fashionable Parisian goldsmith.  A commission received here for a stag led Barye to undertake a serious study of zoology and anatomy at the Jardin des Plantes.  The head keeper at the Jardin des Plantes would inform Barye when an animal was about to die so that the artist could study closely the bone structure of the animal he could only normally sketch from behind bars.

By 1831 Barye left Fauconier and the same year his model of a "Tiger Devouring a Gavial" was well received by the public as was his "Lion Crushing a Serpent" the following year. These two dramatic pieces splendidly depict the combat of animals in the wild, a subject that was to appear frequently in Barye's sculpture.

The 1830's were a time of great success for Barye and the new monarch, Louis-Philippe, was an enthusiastic patron of the arts.  The King's son, the Duc d'Orleans, commissioned Barye to produce a group of five dramatic hunt scenes, each one depicting one of the great game animals, which Barye carried out between 1834 and 1838.  Barye's work was extremely popular with the affluent classes, particularly as many of his subjects featured 'the chase', a strongly followed pastime.

In 1854, Barye was appointed Professor of Zoological Drawing at the Jardin des Plantes.  Pupils of Barye's during this period included Auguste Rodin and Emmanuel Fremiet.

As the father of the 'Animalier' movement, Barye spawned many imitators, yet, his unique style and variety of subjects made his work highly sought after not only in France but also in America. From humble beginnings as a metalworker, Barye reached the heights of artistic development and success in a career spanning 56 years.  The body of admirable work left by Barye entitles him to be regarded as one of the greatest of animal sculptors.

 

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