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The French sculptor Antoine-Louis Barye (1795-1875) was born into poverty, had little formal schooling, and almost never left Paris, so his choice of subject for his art is particularly surprising. For a half century Antoine Barye created bronze sculptures of exotic wild animals including lions, tigers, reptiles, and birds of prey in minute detail. He often depicted them in mortal combat, captured in the moment before the kill. His repertoire was vast and in addition to the above included incredibly realistic depictions of panthers, jaguars, ocelots, basset hounds, boars, deer, apes, hares, pheasants, and herons.

Most Barye work was signed, and perhaps the themes were influenced by the two years he served in Napoleon's army, from 1812 to 1814. After the army, Barye joined the studio of an academic sculptor named Francois Bosio and trained as a metalworker in the workshop of Martin-Buillaume Biennais, Napoleon's favorite silversmith. He subsequently went to work for Baron Gros, a popular painter, and with whose support he got into the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Barye attended the prestigious art academy from 1818 until 1823 but spent much of his time sketching the zoo animals at the Jardin Des Plantes accompanied by painter Eugene Delacroix. Once, when a lion died, both Barye and Delacroix rushed to draw it at close range, and they studied the reptiles at the natural history museum in Paris. Barye like Delacroix was also involved in the Romantic movement that rejected the order, harmony, idealization, and rationality of neoclassicism and the Enlightenment. However, he had an eye for the weird and exotic, and it was out of touch with public tastes and as such didn't do well commercially.

He finally won a medal for "Tiger Devouring a Gavial", a ferocious, crocodile like creature, many years after his salon debut, and his first commercial break came in 1834 when the Duc d'Orleans commissioned a 20 foot long table centerpiece with five large groups of figures depicting hunts of different regions and periods. They included a tiger hunt with Indians on elephants spearing their prey, a bull hunt, a lion hunt, a medieval bear hunt\, and an elk hunt with Mongol warriors. In 1845 he established his own foundry to produce small, affordable bronzes for the new French middle class. However, he soon declared bankruptcy, for he was far too much of a perfectionist to make a profit. From 1848 to 1857 he used others to cast his sculptures including Emile Martin; in general, these external casts over which he had less hand on influence carried the signature "A. L. Barye" versus "Barye" that he used previously. In 1851 Barye began exhibiting at the Salon again with "Jaguar Devouring a Hare", a sculpture which subsequently went to the Louvre. In 1854, he became a professor of drawings at the natural history museum and in 1868 he was elected to the French Academy of Fine Arts. He died in 1875, and after his death the foundry owner Ferdinand Barbedienne purchased most of his plasters and models and made casts of them through the 1920s. Barbedienne foundry posthumous casts are marked "F. Barbedienne Foundeur."

In 1899, a New York gallery organized a Barye retrospective to raise money for a Barye monument in Paris. The campaign was successful, and the monument was erected in the 1890s in Barye Square on the eastern tip of the Ile St.-Louis. It was a statue of Theseus battling a centaur and stood until World War II when Germans melted the bronze and subsequently recast after the war. Barye was the foremost animalier of perhaps all time, whose sculptures and their raw representations of the violence of nature have mesmerized collectors and art lovers for nearly two centuries.

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