Every time you come across a sublime 19th century animal sculpture, you’re looking at a work that owes a debt to French sculptor Pierre Jules Mène (1810-1879). Considered the “pioneer of animal sculpture” in his time, Mène belonged to the elite school of French animalières that included Pierre Louis Rouillard, Antoine-Louis Barye, and his son-in-law Auguste Caïn. The son of a metal turner, Mène learned to cast and chase bronze from his father, focusing on small bronze figures, “which explains why none of his works exist as public statuary” compared to some of his contemporaries. In 1838, he opened his own foundry with his son-in-law Auguste-Nicolas Cain, in order to cast his own work.
Initially, Mène focused on the domestic animal figures (cows, sheep, etc.), that were in vogue at the time. Due to the high quality of his work, his sculptures were very popular among the bourgeois and he made several editions of each sculpture, often to decorate the growing number of private homes. This spirited sculpture of an Arab falconer astride a magnificent rearing horse represents the shift in the mid-nineteenth century that many animalières made towards Orientalism, even as they continued to work with animal subjects. The energy and feeling in the visages of the falconer and horse are among the qualities that set Mène apart from his peers, save Barye. Mène was also known as the premiere lost-wax casting expert of his time, later surpassed only by Auguste Rodin. To learn more this bronze sculpture, contact Alexander’s Antiques.