Pierre-Jules Mêne

Pierre Jules Mêne, (French, 1810 -1879), is considered the pioneer of animal sculpture in the nineteenth-century.
Mêne produced a number of animal sculptures, mainly of domestic animals including horses, cows, bulls, sheep and goats.  He was one of a school of French animalières which also included Antoine-Louis Barye.  His work was first shown in London in 1849.  Mêne specialized in small bronze figures which explains why none of his works exist as public statuary.  His work was a popular success with the bourgeois class and many editions of each sculpture were made, often to decorate an increasing number of private homes of the period.  The quality of these works is high, comparable to Barye's.  Mêne also seems to have enjoyed a longer period of success and celebrity than his contemporaries. He is considered to have been the lost-wax casting expert of his time, later surpassed only by Auguste Rodin.
It would seem that Pierre Jules Mêne was born to be an artist. The son of a skilled metal turner, Mêne was born in Paris and was raised in the centre of Parisian craftsmanship where furniture manufacture, sculpting and metalworking were a part of his everyday life. His father, Dominique, tutored his son not only in the basics of metal foundry and the work of a "ciseler" but also in the rudiments of sculpture.
From this early tuition, Mêne began his career as a modeller for commercial porcelain outlets whose products were very much in vogue at the time. He honed his natural talents as an animal sculptor under Rene Compaire and developed his feel for the animal kingdom at the Zoo in the Jardin des Plantes. Once Mêne began interpreting his sketches into bronze he quickly established a reputation for himself.
Married in 1832, Mêne devoted his energy to the business of sculpting and in 1838 he started his own foundry and held his first exhibition at the Salon; where he was to become a regular contributor until his death. Mêne won four medals at the Salon and at major exhibitions, receiving the Cross of the Legion d'honneur in 1861 and two first class medals at the London Exhibitions of 1855 and 1861. One of Mêne's finest and most successful sculptures, 'L'Accolade' (Arab Mare and Stallion) was first exhibited in wax at the Salon of 1852, in bronze in 1853, and at the Exposition Universelle of 1855. An example of this work in now in the Louvre Museum. Other popular models exhibited at the Salon during Mêne's lifetime are the 'Mare and Foal' exhibited in 1868 in wax and 1869 in Bronze and 'Vainqueur de Derby' exhibited in wax in 1863 and bronze in 1864. During his lifetime only one of his works, 'The Mounted Huntsman and his Hounds' was acquired by the State. Now, however, examples of Mêne's work can be found in other French museums and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, which has the wax model of 'Winner of the Race' originally exhibited at the Salon in 1866.
Mêne took great care in his work and usually edited the pieces himself and those from his own hand stand out. As his success grew Mêne issued a catalogue of his work, with the assistance of his son-in-law, Auguste Cain - himself an animalier sculptor of some repute. Following Mene's death, the continued casting of many of his models was undertaken by Cain and later by the Susse Freres and the Barbedienne Foundries, both of whom inscribed their casts. In addition, two Scottish foundries, Coalbrookdale and Falkirk, issued models in cast iron and occasionally in bronze.
During his lifetime, Mêne distinguished and in some respects distanced himself from the 'Father of the Animalier School', Antoine-Louis Barye by capturing the more delicate side of the animal world and eliminating the natural violence in animals that Barye captured so well. The delicacy and natural form in his sculpture was, in part, a result of the influence of the painters Landseer and Carle Vernet. From Landseer, Mêne found not only subject matter but an expressive element - sentimentality. Landseer's strong influence can be readily seen in Mêne's large and intricate model of 'After the Hunt in Scotland'. From Vernet, Mene captured the verve and spirit of the painter's compositions. By incorporating these elements into his art, Mêne's sculptures possessed a character and natural appeal of their own. Over a century later Mêne has emerged as one of the foremost sculptors of the 'Animalier' school and surpassed all others in his portrayal of animals in the realist form.

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"The Stag" by Pierre-Jules Mêne
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"The Stag" by Pierre-Jules Mêne
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