Antoine-Louis Barye is considered the “Father of the French Animalier School” that became popular in the middle of the nineteenth century. The Animalier movement was notable for its realistic and naturalistic portrayal of animals. Barye addressed themes such as wild animals in dramatic action pitted against each other in the struggle for survival. He was also instrumental in foundry practices and placed a great deal of energy and passion into the fabrication of his bronzes. Barye was extremely influential to generations of European and American sculptors. He received many commissions. He also executed many public works and monuments around France. His works are represented in the great museums throughout the world, with large collections in American institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, N.Y.; the Brooklyn Museum; the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore; the Baltimore Museum of Art; and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
Barye’s chief patron from the 1860’s on was W.T. Walters of Baltimore, whose collection is now the Walters Art Gallery, and who saw to it that Barye produced 120 works for the Corcoran Gallery in Washington the year before Barye died. Other American collectors were Cyrus J. Lawrence, James F. Sutton, Samuel P. Avery, Richard M. Hunt, George A. Lucas and Theodore Roosevelt. These nineteenth-century enthusiasts and their heirs so enriched our American public collections that they now hold more works of Barye than any other sculptor.
Antoine-Louis Barye was acclaimed by most as the finest sculptor of the French Animaliers School. As a 19th century sculptor he was an advocate for both naturalism and romanticism. An acute observer of nature Barye was fascinated by the dramatic depiction of animals in the wild who were often engaged in brutal battles for survival. His realistic depictions and choice of animal subjects antagonized the more traditional and classically inclined members of the Academy. His detailed bronzes which were the result of acute observation and the study of animal anatomy set Barye apart from many of his peers. His often savage and vicious depiction of animals was at odds with the symmetry and subjects of classical art. The animals he sculpted were often engaged in combat. His revolutionary works were commissioned by the state, promoted by the Salon, and collected by true connoisseurs of art. Barye's work continued to inspire future generations of sculptors, including Auguste Rodin, who considered Barye his teacher, and who studied with him at the Jardin des Plantes in 1863. Barye enjoyed much commercial success with his bronzes and monuments during his lifetime. Barye is often referred to as the “Michaelangelo of the menagerie.”