Bronze, rich and varied dark to mid brown and green patina (2)
29 by 31.6cm., 11½ by 12½in.
'Le Michel-Ange de la Ménagerie' was the tribute given to Barye by the celebrated French art critic Théophile Gautier. Considered the inventor and undisputed master of animalier sculpture, Barye created an exceptional oeuvre parallel to that of his friend, the painter Eugene Delacroix. Barye used animal subjects to represent the extremes of power and emotion which were central to the Romantic movement, thereby challenging the accepted hierarchy of subject matter in the French artistic establishment. The Cheval Turc is generally regarded as the model which most powerfully epitomes his unique sculptural vision. This pair of Cheval Turc are outstandingly fine and rare examples of his art, made by Barye himself at the height of his career.
Barye learnt his sculptural technique in the studio of François-Joseph Bosio, a favourite sculptor of the Napoleonic court. He continued his studies under the painter Antoine-Jean Gros, the successor of neo-classicist Jacques-Louis David. But perhaps the most formative studies Barye undertook were his own visits to the Paris zoo, the Jardin des Plantes, where he sketched the animals directly from nature. During the lean early years of his career Barye would arrive at the zoo as early as five o'clock in the morning to work on the genre he made particularly his own. A sympathetic keeper, one Père Rouseau, let him in out-of-hours and even gave the hungry artist breakfast from the bears' provisions! During the 1820s he was often accompanied by Delacroix, who shared his intense dedication to the observation of exotic beasts. As an emblem of Romanticism the Cheval Turc finds its painted counterpart in Delacroix's canvasses, for example in the rearing horse in his Massacre at Chios in the Louvre Museum, Paris.
Infused as it is with the Romantic spirit of Barye's own age, the Cheval Turc also recalls the Antique equestrian group of Marcus Aurelius and the Renaissance precedent of Leonardo's drawings of a rearing horse, studies for a monument to Francesco Sforza which was never erected. As a talented draughtsman Barye produced thousands of drawings and the strong silhouettes of his compositions, particularly evident in the present model, derive from his draughtsman's sense of shape and profile which he expertly transposed into three dimensions. The Cheval Turc triumphantly presents Barye's supreme grasp of anatomy and drama and as the author of the 1844 Besse catalogue wrote "...the only feeling that one can experience upon seeing it is a deep admiration both for one of nature's most noble creatures and the the talent of its delineator."
The first edition of the pendant Cheval Turc appeared around 1840. Lifetime casts of Barye's models were edited by a few founders including Besse in 1844 and the association Martin-Barye. At one stage during this association Barye had began to lose control of his production and fell into financial difficulties. He regained control of his production and finances around 1857 and the present lifetime casts date to this period. They were produced in Barye's own atelier to his own exacting standards at the height of the sculptor's artistic career. The subtle patina is delicately toned with green and warm highlights of a burnt sienna hue. These colours were highly favoured by Barye and the patina, together with the lack of foundry mark, date the casts to this period when, with his business thriving and financial concerns overcome, Barye had the time to lavish attention on individual casts.
Eugène Guillaume, a contemporary of Barye, vividly described the devotion and expertise of the artist in his studio: 'The master, in his bronze-worker's apron retouching his plasters, graver in hand, puts pieces in the vice, examines them from every point of view and in all lights, passing no imperfection. His application never wearied until the work was finished, and he never signed until his attention was exhausted. Nothing could have come nearer the workshop of some Greek statuary of Sicyone or Egina, who was at once, modeler, founder, and engraver.'
The Cheval Turc is not only quintessential of Barye's art, but is a definitive emblem of animalier sculpture and the great Romantic movement. This magnificent pair of bronzes of the Cheval Turc presents an exceptionally rare opportunity to acquire the sought-after pendants raised to pre-eminent quality by the alchemical touch of the artist's own hand.
Benge, pp.1, 93, fig. 82; Poletti & Richarme, nos A127 & A128, pp. 263-265; Pivar, no. A150; Saunier, pp. 40-41; Untamed: The Art of Antoine-Louis Barye, pp. 2-15, 158-159 cat. 57