Later this year, we are pleased to offer a private collection of sculpture by French Animaliers in our Fine Furniture, Sculpture, Carpets, Ceramics and Works of Art auction on 9 December. Assembled by a passionate British collector over the course of several decades, the group includes not only models by renowned leading figures of the movement such as Barye, Alfred Dubucand and Pierre-Jules Mêne, but also works by lesser known, though incredibly skilled, sculptors such as Ferdinand Pautrot and Paul Comolera. Here our British and European Sculpture and Works of Art specialist, Charlotte Schelling, takes us through selected highlights from the collection.
When Antoine-Louis Barye exhibited his first animal sculpture during the 1831 Paris Salon, one critic dubbed the artist an ‘animalier’: a maker of animals. While initially used as a criticism, this term caught on, and over the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth century it would come to designate an influential group of French sculptors whose practice centred on the depiction of animals. Imbued with vitality, character and wonderful attention to movement and detail, Animalier sculptures remain desirable and highly collectible at auction.
Paris-born sculptor Alfred Dubucand made his Salon debut in 1867 with a wax model of a dead pheasant, which is surprising considering the great liveliness that usually characterises his work. Dubucand studied under Antoine-Louis Barye, and the older sculptor’s influence is visible in the careful study of animals’ anatomy and temperament.
These two perching birds are some of my favourite pieces in the collection, as they look so alert and inquisitive. These bronzes are also great examples of Dubucand’s eye for detail. Note for example the finish on the individual feathers.
Another highlight of the collection is this ‘Literary Bear’ by Christophe Fratin. Fratin’s distinctive style isn’t as much about minute anatomical detail as it is about evoking a subject with sharp modelling and, not unimportantly, a sense of humour.
While the sculptor created several monumental commissions during his lifetime (such as the large group of Eagles and their prey in New York’s Central Park) he is most renowned for his small-scale depictions of anthropomorphic bears and monkeys, which defied the more formal conventions of sculpture at the time. Around fifty models of anthropomorphic bears engaged in a range of activities by Fratin are known, and this bronze is a great example of Fratin’s witty subject matter.
Nineteenth-century art critic Théophile Gautier referred to Barye as ‘Michelangelo of the Menagerie’, and the sculptor is often considered the founder and leader of the Animalier movement.
While this small and sweetly rendered model depicting a ‘ratel’ or honey badger raiding a nest of eggs is considered a later work by Barye, it shows the sculptor’s unrivalled ability to capture animals’ behaviours and temperaments.
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