A popular genre
In addition to its influence across all artistic fields, the Romantic Movement saw the emergence of a particular genre: the animal sculpture.
Animals fascinated the Romantics. They represent wildlife, the world of Nature, and are a perfect mix of savagery and vulnerability. Animal sculptors followed a path already opened to them by painters, a path opened by the British, and then followed by the Romantics of the 1820s, most notably Gericault and Horace Vernet.
The work of Antoine-Louis Barye is representative of the peak of the genre, bringing in its wake many sculptors such as Pierre-Jules Mene, Barye’s son, Alfred, and his son in law, Auguste Cain, who sculpted Lions and Tigers and made the representation of these beasts his specialty.
Antoine-Louis Barye’s work was warmly received, and its popularity grew quickly. Critics of his work were pleased to identify the art of drawing portraits of real animals, capturing their feelings or their ferocity. Despite the reluctance of an academic society which considered animals unworthy of inclusion in Great Art, critics and the general public spoke very highly of this genre of production, which clearly influenced the decorative arts.
Antoine-Louis Barye contributed greatly to the creation of metalwork pieces featuring animals. At the age of fourteen he entered into an apprenticeship with Fourier who provided metalworkers with matrices to create repoussés. In this workshop, Barye witnessed of the fabrication of gold snuff boxes, commissioned to the goldsmith Martin Guillaume Biennais by Napoleon Bonaparte for his distinguished guests.
In 1820, Antoine Louis Barye was employed at the goldsmith, Jacques Henri Fauconnier, who was himself a student of Odiot. He was at the peak of his success and benefitted from the patronage of the Duke of Angouleme and the Duchess of Berry. Thanks to his training and his the requests of his clients, Antoine-Louis Barye created many pieces, such as inkwells, andirons, and chandeliers.
Animals and Decorative Items
The animal sculptors who followed the example of Antoine-Louis Barye also produced many decorative objects. A multitude of artworks appeared at that time that used animals as inspiration. Stork, turtles, lizards, or frogs appear on the base or on the stems of the candelabras. Each of these animal representations reflects, in its way, the Romantic impulse that ran throughout Europe in the 19th century.