ORIGINAL bronzes by Antoine Louis Barye form one of the chief features of interest, in a review of the possessions of the Corcoran Gallery of Art.
The collection in its entirety dates from 1873, when Mr. W. T. Walters, representing the trustees of the institution, was commissioned, by his col-leagues, to purchase in Europe, works of art for the Gallery; and gave Barye a command for a copy in bronze, of every work he had produced.
The Barye Collection of the Corcoran Gallery is then one of the several important collections of the works of that master in existence, if it is not, indeed, all things considered, the richest, at least in this country. Each of the one hundred and seven pieces in the collection is a ” proof ” that is to say it is signed by the artist, and issued from his studio.
The existence of at least three of the great collections of Barye bronzes in this country, may be directly ascribed to the influence of Mr. George A.
Lucas (1824-1909) of Baltimore, who, during a residence of over fifty years in Paris, was instrumental in, bringing about a public recognition of the Barbison School of painters, and of Barye. He was an intimate friend of most of the noted artists of Paris, and frequented their studios; becoming a recognized authority on art matters, and a col-lector of art objects.
Mr. Lucas was in close touch, from the beginning, with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Corcoran Gallery, the Walters collection, and many of the leading private collections of America, and together with Samuel P. Avery, of New York, and Mr. Walters, his intimate friends, influenced these collections quite materially. His home, No. 21 rue de l’Arc de Triomphe, was a centre of artist life of Paris; in it during his long life, he gathered the large and choice collection of art treasures, which, at his death, he bequeathed to the Maryland Institute, of Baltimore.
Barye .was the son of a master silversmith, who had migrated to Paris from Lyons, and established a business. Though not college bred, Barye was a serious student, informing himself liberally on all the collateral branches of his profession, and acquiring an excellent and thorough general education. His youth, as well as his whole life, was honourable and laborious.
He made his entrée into the profession, which latterly absorbed him, through the industrial arts; and learned to engrave upon metal in the shop of Fourier, whose work consisted chiefly of ornamenting the military trappings, so much in vogue at the time. He also made steel moulds for the repoussé work of Biennais, a successful silversmith.
In 1812 he was conscripted, and served his country until the fall of Napoleon; when he returned to his interrupted labours, and soon after entered the studio of the then famous sculptor, Bosio, and of the noted painter, Gros, in whose atelier he acquired that freedom of execution which animates his wonderful drawings and his powerful aquarelles.
At the close of the first year of study under Bosio, Barye presented himself for the concours in statuary, and nearly carried off the prize. For four successive years he tried to obtain the Prix de Rome, but never rose beyond the second place. Rebuffs and disappointment only strengthened his determination to succeed, and he devoted himself with renewed assiduity to his work.
Driven by the necessity of earning a livelihood, Barye worked until 1831 for Fauconnier, jeweller of the Duchesse d’Angoulême, composing for him exquisite little pieces, some of which he afterwards signed. The animals, which he modelled for this work, show every indication of the richness of his talents, and the seriousness of his application. He passed whole days studying his models, informing himself of their habits, comparing them together, and noting every trait of character. He read and studied the books by Buffon, Lacépède and Cuvier, and followed assiduously the lectures at the Jardin des Plantes, and other courses of anatomy. He practised and experimented with all the delicate operations required in the casting of metals, and acquired a mass of knowledge, which his memory, constantly exercised, never lost.
He sent to the exposition of 1827 two busts and several medallions ; but they were not noticed by the critics, and no contemporary opinion of them comes down to us. Barye appears again at the Salon of 1831, with a Saint Sebastien, and his group ” Tiger Devouring a Crocodile.” The former was much admired, but the event of the exposition was the animal group, which was received with universal plaudits. (No. 3030 in the Corcoran Collection.’) M. Delécluze, who was art critic in the Journal des Debats, and an old pupil of David, waxed enthusiastic over it, and pronounced it the strongest and best work of sculpture in the Salon.
The numbers in this chapter refer to the catalogue of the Barye Collection, issued by the Corcoran Gallery of Art.
In the Salon of 1833, Barye strengthened his incipient reputation by the exhibition of a ” Bust of the Due d’Orleans,” a ” Stag Borne Down by Hounds (3049), ” Horse Overthrown by a Lion” (in plaster), ” Charles VI in the Forest of Maintz,” a ” Cavalier of the XV Century,” ” Lion and Serpent ” (3022), ” Russian Bear,” ” Bear of the Alps ” (probably 31(36), ” Fight Between Two Bears of America and India ” (3016), ” Elephant of Asia” (3041), ” Dead Gazelle ” (plaster study), and a frame of medallions. To the same Salon he sent a series of six aquarelles.
The critics were again favourable and N,” writing in Le Nationale, of April 21, says : ” From men let us pass to animals, and what shall we say of Barye, their wonderful interpreter? What shall be said of the little dramas he makes them play, dramas so simple, yet so deep in effect? What death of a human being in this Salon stirs more the soul, than the death of this little gazelle, only so long as your hand, lying so languishingly upon the sod, as if drawing its last breath? What assassination appeals to you more than this wounded stag, fighting the dogs for its life; or this horse overthrown by a lion? . . Who could make you laugh more merrily than this bear, on his hind legs, waiting for you to throw him a piece of bread? ”
At this point in his career, Barye was fortunate in securing the protection of a certain cult in France, headed by the Duc d’Orleans, composed of amateurs of the new progressive art. The Prince possessed already several of his works, amongst them the ” Bear in the Trough ; ” and wished to have a series of ornaments for his dining table from the hand of the great artist. So, just as Benvenuto had wrought plates and dishes for the Medicis, Barye was forced to expend his marvellous skill upon the nine groups, now so famous, for the table of the duke.
These groups were designed to stand upon an epergne or surtout de table, made by Chenavard, and intended for the centre of an enormous baronial table, laid with mirrors, and lit with brilliant masses of tapers. There were five principal groups, representing mounted hunts of the tiger, with elephants; the wild ox; the bear; the lion with buffaloes, and the elk. These were varied in shape, according to their relative positions.
The Tiger Hunt was the central feature. It was composed of Hindoos and Mohammedans, on the back of an immense elephant, defending themselves against two tigers, one of which climbs up the flank of the great brute, reaching almost to the howdah in its back; while the other grips the left hind foot of the beast, and regards the enemy with a – savage snarl. On the long sides of the table stood the Lion and Wild Ox Hunts, forming long masses of combatants; while at the ends, on elevated parts of the tray, were the Elk and Bear Hunts, rounded in general outline.
While the collection contains none of the hunts in bronze, it is rich in the possession of a water colour sketch of the Tiger Hunt, bought at the sale of Barye’s works soon after his death, in 1875, by Mr. Lucas. The original bronze is in the Walters Collection. The mould was destroyed after this cast was made and there is no other in existence.
The Salon of the year 1834 refused these groups, despite the intervention of the Duc d’Orleans, who was the exhibitor; and when the latter, in indignation carried the case to the king, Louis Philippe was powerless. The combination of artists, with minds closed to new ideas, and of officials, who enjoyed the opportunity of snubbing royalty, was too strong for a monarch who had all he could do to maintain himself amidst the political difficulties of an insecure kingdom.
The disfavour of the jury was a blow, but Barye had the courage born of competence and was otherwise upheld by the strongest writers, and an imposing list of patrons.
To the Salon of 1835 he sent only a ” Tiger Devouring a Stag,” which was executed in colossal size, in stone, and placed at Lyons, the birthplace of his father. The subject he also cast in bronze, by the lost wax process, in small size, for Thiers, who was already collecting.
The ” Seated Lion,” afterwards bought by the government, and placed in bronze by the postern of the Louvre, which issues on the quai, was exhibited in the Salon of 1836, which refused his small pieces, on the old plea that they were jeweller’s art, or commercialized sculpture.
The rejection of his small pieces by the Salon authorities seemed to prove so rooted an hostility to his work, that Barye resolved to eschew exhibitions, and for thirteen years did not exposer Bad luck took charge of his affairs, and he began to get into debt. With the panic of 1848 all his finished bronzes, his models, and stock of various kinds were attached by a founder, named Martin ; a calamity fraught with dire possibilities for the sculptor, who feared that slovenly or altered statuettes might be signed with his name, and sold by his creditors.
The best work of this period includes ” Angelica and Roger mounted on a Hippogriff ” (3009), and the famous pair of ” Candelabras ” with nine lights (3010) made for the Duc de Montpensier, the youngest son of Louis Philippe. The candelabras were designed to light the group, and in this position they are displayed at the Corcoran Gallery.
Roger, mounted on the Hippogriff, holds in his arms the beautiful Angelica, according to the episode described in Ariosto’s poem, Orlando Furioso.” Gustave Planche writes of the group in 1851 : ” The genius of Ariosto, the -first poet of Italy, after Dante, suited the turn of Barye’s mind marvellously well, though his conception of the theme is on a more reserved basis. Angelica, with her full rounded limbs, exemplifies sensual beauty. Her figure, in its graceful strength, is charming and seductive to the eye and to the imagination.
. . There is truly, in this admirable creature, something that partakes at the same time of the nymphs of Rubens and of the maids of Athens, whose graceful profiles decorate the Temple of Minerva. . . . Suppleness, strength, and grace —nothing is wanting in this beautiful creature to charm her lover. Roger, who holds her in his arms, clad in solid armour, adds to the beauty of the woman by the energy of his attitude, by the power of his glance, at once loving and dominating.”
The Hippogriff, whose type, sketched by Ariosto, allows free course to the artist’s fancy, has not been interpreted less felicitously than the lovers.
This marvellous horse, of which nature furnishes no model, partakes of the nature of the eagle and the horse. He devours space as did Jove’s courser, and exhales fire from his delicate nostrils. The wings attached to the shoulders, light and powerful, move with a rapidity which defies the eye, and there is in this singular ensemble so skilful a cornbination, so naturally conceived, that it loses its fabulous character. Though it knows no counter-part in the discoveries of science, one involuntarily accepts the Hippogriff as a perfectly possible specimen that might have lived or that may still exist.
Charles DeKay, in his life of Barye, describes it as a ” horse bird, upborne on the spray which a dolphin has cast skyward, from the sea, as it curls itself in a spiral. The ocean sympathizes with the lovers, and the Hippogriff skims the waves with an eager look. Secure on its broad back rides the confounder of magicians, Roger the Paladin, pressing to his steel corslet the bare bosom of the maid he has rescued. . The whirling spray, and the hard riding attitude of Roger, as well as the direction of Angelica’s limbs, aid the impression of a tremendous rush through the air.”
The Candelabras, composed of nine figures, are amongst the choicest things in the Barye room. As Genevay said, they might well have been signed Jean Goujon or Germain Pilon, and indeed they seem to be more Renaissance than modern. At the base are the three goddesses, Juno, Minerva, and Venus; half way up are three imaginary chimeras, and the top is surmounted by the three graces, with arms intertwined. From beneath the platform at their feet, spread the twelve branches delicately wrought and terminating in blossoms, which form the cups for the candles. The goddesses may be identified by the symbols which they bear. With Juno is the sceptre and the peacock; with Venus the dolphin in memory of her birth from the foam of the sea; and Minerva is accompanied by the owl and the scroll.
The revolution of 1848 abolished the jury for the Institute, and the Salon of 185o had a jury composed of artists. It was this jury which accepted the group of ” Theseus Slaying the Centaur Bianor ” or ” Centaur and Lapith ” (3097), as it was first called. Begun in 1846 it was finished in 1848. The government bought it and deposited it at the provincial museum at LePuy, to the despair of those who thought it worthy to stand on some public spot in Paris.
The Centaur Barye modelled from the Greek myth, but, as DeKay neatly puts it, he did not ” work from some classical precedent down to modern times, but wrought his modern ideas into forms that assumed classical shapes, in order to please the taste of his educated fellow countrymen.” Hence the Centaur, succumbing to the blows of one of the Lapithae, or of their friend Theseus, is a fresh creation worked out from original ideas.
An earlier variant of the group preserved by the Corcoran Gallery (3014) differs in certain particulars from its secondary form, just described. In ” Theseus ,and the Centaur ” the action of the raised fore foot and tail of the Centaur indicates a scarcely arrested movement. Barye altered his group by advancing from an earlier stage of the combat to the crisis. The earlier group may be detected, at a glance, by the absence of a clump of cactus, which in the second model replaces the rock in the first.
The Salon of 1851 accepted another mythological group, upon the idea of which Barye had worked for years. It is ” Theseus Slaying the Minotaur ” (3013), which has been described as typifying a combat between two religions, Theseus representing the sun-god humanized, who makes war upon the monster and subdues him; while Minotaur is a variant upon the moon god, a creature with human form and a bull’s head the horns recalling the moon when at the crescent.
The Centaur is the horseman poeticized, the Turkoman who lives on horseback and who terrorized Northern Persia until Russia overran his land; or the Hun, who caused all Europe to tremble. The Minotaur represents the evil spirits of the grave, who rise and prey upon the living. In religious history he stands for the early Semitic faiths with their gorgeous rituals and ceremonies, and attendant cruelties, rife amongst the Phoenicians and Jews.
The Minotaur occurs on the coins of Cnossus, once a flourishing city on the north coast of Crete.
DeKay eulogizes the group as ” calm and noble without pushing nobility to the point of superhuman power. Thus the hero is not a magician or a god, from the point of whose sword issues a force that slays the demon, neither is he a man, doing easily what no man could. He is a powerful hero by reason of his mind, which has trained his body so that it can defeat untrained brawn and muscle, mind which has dug the copper and tin, and cast the bronze sword to aid him in the struggle against the brute forces of nature. His stride keeps him erect against the heavy onslaught of the bull man, and he prevents the latter from throwing him, by seizing one great bovine ear and forcing the monster back of the perpendicular. In vain does the latter strike with his left leg behind the hero’s right knee, at the spot the wrestler tries to hit, in order to bring his opponent down. In vain he clutches the latter’s body with both hands, in the effort to get a lock round the torso. Theseus holds him off where he wants him, and pauses coolly to select the exact spot where he will bury his blade half way to the hilt.
” As in the Centaur group, so here, the hero wins with his brains, not his brawn, having mastered his foes before administering the fatal stroke.”
“The Jaguar Devouring a Hare” (3098) is another chef d’oeuvre. It was first shown in bronze at the Universal Exposition, from which it was bought by the government for the Luxembourg collection, and has been transferred to the Louvre. The great cat is intent upon his prey, which lies limp and tragic in strong contrast to the powerful jaws which break its back. Every muscle is tense with the operation of eating the tail stiffens, the spine undulates, the ears flatten, the nostrils dilate with ferocious energy.
” ‘The Jaguar and the Hare’ represents the whole family of felines at their repasts, with the possible exception of the lion; especially of their constant watchfulness, both for the inroads of other animals, and their own species, and for an-other chance to seize a prey. . The jaguar has commenced, as all the carnivora do, at the entrails of the hare, and eats the softer parts first. But meanwhile it watches keenly for another victim, laying its ears well back, in sign of readiness to dispute its meal with anything that comes near.
” In many parts of America the jaguar at its meal is surrounded by birds that feed on carrion and will sometimes venture very close in hopes to steal a bit. In this jaguar Barye has caught that alert look, in addition to the expression of head and tail which betokens enjoyment of a prey still hot with its life-blood.”
The history of this group in the auction room shows the rapid advance in the cost of Barye’s works. At the sale of the sculptor’s models and statuettes, after his death, Monsieur Sichel bought the copy now in the Walters Gallery for $580. Ten years later, at the Sichel sale, Mr. Walters paid for it $1,880, and in 1888, Monsieur Bonnat paid for a copy, no better than this, $5,000.
In 1855, at the Universal Exposition, Barye received the Grand Medal of Honour for artistic bronzes ; and, in the same year, he was awarded the officers’ cross in the Legion of Honour. He lived at the time in the rue Montagne Sainte Geneviève, but kept his old residence in the Marais quarter, rue Sainte Anastase, for a workshop and store. He did his own casting and devoted great care and attention to the development of the patine. In 1855 he had for sale more than a hundred different bronzes, and at this period sold a small rabbit, without a base, for two francs fifty; a little turtle for three francs; and the Hippogriff for seven hundred francs. No single piece cost more than this, though for the pair of candelabra with nine figures he got one thousand francs, and for a second pair with ten figures, fourteen hundred. It was not possible for him to raise his prices much during the twenty years that remained to him.
Yet that he did make sales is gratifying, and it is pleasant to record that some of his best patrons were Americans. This was largely due to Lucas, who started the cult for Barye bronzes in this locality. The painter, William Morris Hunt, was also an admirer of Barye and bought many pieces, urging his friends, from Boston and New York, to do the same. Mr. Walters visited the dingy little shop in the Quai des Célestines as early as 1859, and often shipped a bronze as a present to a friend at home. Mr. McGuire, the present director of the Corcoran Gallery, was also an early patron of the sculptor, buying four pieces from Barye in 1864, and afterwards sending to Paris for others.
The command for public monuments came to Barye after he had passed his prime. In 1862 he was commissioned to make an equestrian statue of Napoleon in bronze, to be erected at Ajaccio, in Corsica, a spot he had never seen and indeed never did see, as the monument was erected without his presence or care. In 1866 he made a draped female Saint Clotilde in marble for a chapel in the Madeleine. The character of these commissions was ill suited to Barye’s ability, and showed little intelligent sympathy on the part of the administration which bestowed them.
Lefuel, the successor of Visconti as architect of the Louvre, had shown a juster appreciation of the sculptor’s prowess, in commissioning him, in 1854, to make the four groups of War, Force, Peace, and Order, for the Pavillons Mollien and Denon for the Louvre. Though they are placed at such a height that they are scarcely distinguishable, they show invincibly Barye’s true sentiment for decorative sculpture.
While it is impossible to examine the stone originals without a scaffolding, they may be admirably studied in the bronze reproductions presented to the city of Baltimore, by Mr. Walters, and placed on Mount Vernon Square. Each is composed of a man, a boy, and an animal. War, which is considered the finest, is represented by a stalwart man who lays his hand upon a sword, while a boy blows a trumpet, and beside the two figures crouches a horse — man’s chosen comrade in war, in an attitude at once reposeful and strong, his nose scenting battle from afar. In each group the animal is recumbent, giving sculptural mass to the base of the statue.
Besides these four bronzes, Baltimore has, also through the liberality of Mr. Walters, a superb copy in bronze of the ” Lion in Repose ” from the river gate of the Louvre. This is from the Barbedienne factory and duplicates the size of the original.
In 1868, Barye was elected to the Institute.
The commission from the Corcoran Gallery was one of the last that the sculptor received, coming as it did in 1873, and was executed before he died. The order was for one specimen of every bronze he had designed throughout his life. Barye was already seventy-seven, but he set to work to fill the commission, and managed to send one hundred and sixteen pieces before the weakness of age overtook him.
The collection, now so handsomely disposed in a room dedicated to the master, was originally kept upon one long table, until a number of thefts, of the smaller portable bronzes, had reduced the number to one hundred and six, when steps were taken to insure a more prudent installation. The ” Bear Erect” (3106) was one of the stolen pieces, and years afterwards it was returned anonymously to the Gallery, but no clue as to the whereabouts of the other nine pieces has ever been revealed.