The Walters Presents—Untamed: The Art of Antoine-Louis Barye
Baltimore—The Walters Art Museum has organized an exhibition of over 160 works devoted to French artist Antoine-Louis Barye (1796–1875), the foremost animal sculptor or animalier of the 19th century. On view Feb. 11–May 6, 2007, this exhibition will be the first in recent times to emphasize the full range of Barye’s production, including not only his well-known bronze sculptures but also his oil paintings, watercolors and sketches. These pieces are drawn primarily from the Walters’ Barye collection, which rivals the Louvre both in scope and significance. These artworks will reveal the breadth of his subjects from game animals and mythological creatures to animal combat scenes and the human form. Auguste Rodin was an early pupil, and Barye’s work was a source of inspiration to Henri Matisse and Paul Cézanne. The Walters Art Museum will be circulating an exhibition of highlights from its renowned holdings of Barye’s works to The Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Okla. from June 1 to Sept. 2, 2007.
“This February visitors will have the opportunity to see an extraordinarily comprehensive overview of Barye’s sculpture, watercolors, oil paintings, drawings and prints all at the Walters Art Museum for free,” said Walters Director Gary Vikan. “Drawing on Baltimore’s superb collections of Barye art, the exhibition will focus on the Walters’ major holdings and also include some key works from The Baltimore Museum of Art.”
Barye produced some of the most experimental and controversial sculptures of the century based on careful observation of specimens in the Jardin des Plantes, the botanical and zoological garden founded in Paris in 1793. He is remembered for monumental works commissioned by the state as well as for small sculptures intended for interior decoration. Barye was also a pioneer in the production of multiple bronze casts (called “editions”) for the rapidly expanding middle-class market.
The Walters’ Barye collection includes over 180 bronzes, a variety of models in different media, 25 watercolors and two oil paintings, all acquired either by William T. Walters (1819–94) or his son, Henry Walters (1848–1931). In 1949 the Walters Art Museum purchased 349 Barye sketches from the artist’s granddaughter to add to its already impressive holdings. Uniquely featured in the Walters’ collection are original casts, such as the silver Walking Lion commissioned by Napoleon III in 1863, and the five principal hunt groups from the duke of Orleans’ table centerpiece, regarded as one of the key works of French Romantic sculpture.
Untamed: The Art of Antoine-Louis Barye is presented by Ferris, Baker Watts, Inc. and The Milton M. Frank and Thomas B. Sprague Foundation, Inc., with lead support from an anonymous donor and Jane and Worth Daniels. Contributing sponsors are Mary B. Hyman and Sara Finnegan Lycett. Additional support provided by Sebbie and Marinos Svolos and Sotheby’s.
ABOUT THE EXHIBITION
Bayre received both Neoclassical and Romantic training by studying with François-Joseph Bosio (1768-1845), a Neoclassical sculptor specializing in portrait busts and themes derived from antiquity, and with Antoine-Jean Gros (1771-1835), an early Romantic artist famous for battle paintings glorifying Napoleon’s exploits.
“Barye is recognized as master of the Romantic movement who elevated the status of animal subjects as opposed to human, figurative themes,” said William Johnson, Walters senior curator of 18th- and 19th-century art. “His groundbreaking animal sculptures are created with intense energy and emotional drama.”
Never having left the environs of Paris, Barye’s experiences at the Jardin des Plantes allowed for the observation of all manners of wild animal subjects, including lions, tigers, bears and horses. He used his imagination to explore exotic themes such as animal combat between a serpent and Gnu that would not actually take place in nature. In addition, he had access to the Jardin’s Cabinet of Comparative Anatomy, allowing for the viewing of skeletons and dissections.
Barye’s principal early patron was Ferdinand-Philippe, duc’d’Orléans (1810-42), the eldest son of King Louis-Philippe. In 1834, he commissioned an immense surtout de table, or table centerpiece. Bayre was assigned the major sculptural components, and a highlight of the exhibition will be a display of the five hunt groups, each a unique bronze. The central work, The Tiger Hunt (1834-36), originally towered over the surtout on a high arched pedestal. Four pairs of animals locked in combat were placed at the corners of the arch.
Other iconic pieces in the exhibition include several casts of the Lion and Serpent, a model which was purchased by the government of King Louis-Philippe, cast in bronze and later installed in front of the Tuileries Palace, the royal residence that was attached to the Louvre. Also on view is Walking Lion, which was cast in silver as a racing trophy for Napoleon III to present at the race track at Longchamps in 1865.
In addition to Barye’s well-known sculptures, he was also a painter. He began in the late 1820s to paint with watercolors, a medium that British artists, including George Stubbs, made popular in early 19th-century France. Still using exotic animals as his subject, Barye developed a distinctive technique using opaque pigments or washes combined with ink, chalk and pastel. He built up rich textures and frequently abraded the surfaces. In the 1840s, he began painting landscapes in the vicinity of the village of Barbizon, an artist’s colony on the edge of the Fontainebleau forest. He included unusual rock formations, stretches of sand and gnarled trees.
The largest oil painting found in Barye’s studio after his death was Tiger at Rest (ca. 1850s-60s). A tiger appears in a landscape similar to that found in the Apremont Gorge, a rocky valley in the Fontainebleau forest. The majestic animal rests in the twilight, and the scene is bathed in a warm, golden light. Tiger at Rest has a highly textured paint surface employed by many Barbizon painters at this time.
The exhibition is accompanied by an 287-page illustrated catalogue by William Johnston, senior curator of 18th- and 19th-century art at the Walters Art Museum, and Simon Kelly, associate curator of European painting and sculpture at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, with contributions by Ann Boulton, objects conservator at The Baltimore Museum of Art, Julie Lauffenburger, senior objects conservator at the Walters, Isabelle Leroy-Jay Lemaistre, conservateur en chef in the département des sculptures of the Musée du Louvre and Joseph Reinis, a specialist in 19th-century bronzes and bronze casting. This catalogue includes 322 illustrations, 180 in color. The hardcover publication is available for $65 in the Museum Store and the softcover is $44.95. It is also available online at www.thewalters.org.
ADMISSION AND HOURS
Admission to the Walters Art Museum is free. Museum hours are Wednesday–Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. The museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. The Walters will be open on President’s Day.