Antoine-Louis Barye was a proponent of the two most avant-garde aspects of 19th century art – naturalism and romanticism. He was an acute observer of nature and was fascinated by the dramatic depiction of animals in the wild engaged in brutal battles for survival. Barye’s works strayed from classicism in style as well as subject. His realistic depiction and choice of animal subjects undermined the hierarchy of French art, a practice which greatly antagonized the Academy. His incredibly detailed, well-observed bronzes were the result of studying animal anatomy, through reading and sketching at the Jardin des Plantes.
The animals he sculptured were often engaged in bloody combat and were pure expressions of emotions which were depicted in classical art, under the guise of heroic mythological protagonists. He was one of the few sculptors since the Renaissance to cast, chisel and patinate his own work, and his depiction of animals – sometimes savage and vicious, always astute and true to nature, were well beyond the calm symmetry and lofty subjects of classical art. Adroit at both large-scale endeavors, and smaller bronzes. Bayre’s work was commissioned by the state, championed by the Salon, and avidly collected by connoisseurs. His work was an inspiration to sculptors for generations to come, including Auguste Rodin, who considered Barye his teacher, and who studied with him at the Jardin des Plantes in 1863. Until Rodin, Barye was the only 19th century sculptor to explore and manifest in his work the new cannons of Romanticism. For Rodin, Barye was reverently “the master of masters who clung to nature with the force and tenacity of a god and dominated everything. He was beyond all and outside of all art influences, save nature and the antique. He was one of, if not he most isolated of artists who ever lived. Emphatically original, and the first in the world of that kind of originality… He is our great glory and we shall have to depend on him in coming generations.”
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