Sunday, August 13, 2006

Mene Sculpture

Being the proud owners of three beautiful field spaniels (or is it the other way around?), we’re naturally always on the lookout for art that relates to field spaniels. I have an automatic search going on eBay all the time, looking for new stuff that pops up. And a few months ago, a doozy came along — a bronze sculpture of two field spaniels chasing a goose. The sculptor was Pierre-Jules Mene, who probably made this sculpture between 1850 and 1860 (according to the art dealer selling this on eBay). If that’s correct, it’s from the earliest days of the breed — and the two dogs in the sculpture have exactly that look. There’s a short biography of Mene below.

Not being knowledgable about art at all, I did a whole bunch of research before bidding on this piece. As best I could figure from the bazillion places where you can buy Mene works (the dude was prolific, just as the biography points out!), it was worth about $2,500 to $3,500 — a lot more than we were willing to pay. But the current bid was way below that, in the range we might consider, so I sniped it at the last second — and to our great surprise we ended up taking the piece, at a price we were happy to pay for such a thing of beauty.

We waited with bated breath for several days until it showed up — it was shipped from England. The dealer did a terrific job packing it, and it arrived at our place unscathed. It now sits on our livingroom table, as we can’t think where better to put it, where we can look at it as we’d like.

When we started looking for field spaniel art, it never dawned on us that someone might have made a field spaniel sculpture. Now I’m looking for more…

The photo at right is a stereo pair. If you know the trick about crossing your eyes to view them, you can see a stereograph (like the old ViewMasters) by looking at the larger version (click on the little one to get it). Otherwise you’ll need a stereo viewer.

Pierre Jules Mene (1810 - 1877) was born in Paris, France on March 25th 1810. He was the most successful and prolific Animalier sculptor of his time, especially in commercial terms, and he is considered an equal to any in ability. His father was a successful metal turner who taught his son how to work with metals and the principles of casting at an early age. Mene married in 1832 at the age of twenty-two and earned his living by doing small jobs relating to his training with metals such as furniture adornments and clock decorations. Like Barye and Fremiet he spent a great deal of his time at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris drawing. There he invested many hours sketching the animals from which he would make his sculptures. Though he did receive minimal instruction in art he never attended any of the prestigious art schools and was for the most part a self taught artist.

By 1837 Mene had established the first of his many foundries where he would cast all of his own bronzes throughout his successful career. His first exhibit was at the Salon of 1838 of a Dog and Fox which he cast in bronze. Mene continued to exhibit at the annual Salons, submitting one or more models every year throughout his lifetime. Mene won several medals at the annual Salon as well as being awarded First Class Medals at the London Exhibitions of 1855 and 1861. His favorite subjects were horses of which he is considered to be the master at portraying. Next to horses Mene modeled many sculptures of dogs, both at work and at play. He created bronze sculpture ranging from animal portraits, to combat groups, to domestic animals, and equestrian groups of both racing and hunting. It is estimated that he modeled over 150 different subjects during his lifetime and the number of bronze casts produced from these models range well into the thousands.

Mene was a very personable and outgoing individual and by his sheer personality alone he drew the finest craftsmen to work for him in his foundry. His home also became a fashionable meeting place for the painters, sculptors, and musicians of Paris. Pierre Jules Men was truly a man of his art, being just as comfortable entertaining the intellectuals of Paris as he was with his apron on among his foundry workers. His bronzes were widely sold through out Europe and America and he experienced great success in his business. In 1861 Mene was awarded the Cross of the Legion d’Honneur in recognition for his contributions to art. His bronzes, as well as those of his son in law Auguste Cain, were cast with the highest quality, detail, and workmanship, literally setting a new standard that all other foundries tried to meet. Mene cast his works in large editions but took personal care and diligence to make sure that all of the models and casts were kept in perfect condition throughout the edition so that even the last bronze cast in an edition was just as sharp and detailed as the first one that was produced. He did not seek public commissions and he declined many offers to do monuments. Instead he concentrated on his successful business of producing and marketing his very popular bronze sculptures.

After his death in 1877 his foundry was run by his son-in-law Auguste Cain who continued to produce both Mene’s and his own works in the highest standard of quality and continued to submit bronzes in Mene’s name until 1879. Upon the death of Cain in 1892 Mene’s foundry was finally closed and many of his models were sold to the Susse Freres foundry. They published a catalogue of the complete works of P. J. Mene including all of the sizes and subjects. Susse Freres continued to cast and sell Mene’s bronzes into the 20th century, all of them bearing their foundry mark or seal.

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