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An Exceptional Bronze of a Draft Horse 
Pierre Jules Mêne (French, 1810-1879) 
Circa 1860s
4 3/4 (W) x 3.25 (H) 


As Mêne personally oversaw the fabrication of one of his pieces and was obsessive about quality, this little bronze is truly superb. The casting is highly refined and clear with minute details with deep, warm patina. This is a ridiculously fine bronze in a small package. 


Pierre Jules Mêne (1810-1879), aka P.J. Mêne, was the son of a metalsmith, and received his earliest teaching on sculpture and foundry work from his father. Although mostly self-taught, having never attended any of the prestigious art schools, Mêne was also influenced by the painters Edwin Landseer of England with his expressive sentimentality, as well as Carle Vernet of France, in capturing spirit, grace and compositional beauty in sculptural form. Mêne began his career and earned his living by doing small jobs with metals such as furniture adornments and clock decorations.


Ultimately, P. J. Mêne was one of its earliest pioneers and subsequently became one of the most prolific, and probably the best-known, animalier sculptors. Like so many animalier of the day, Mêne's early studies were made at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, where he developed his great talent for animal sculpture. Mêne did not sculpt statues, but rather bronze statuettes most frequently of domestic and farm animals at rest, (horses, dogs, cows, bulls, sheep, and goats). His favorite subject was the horse, of which he is considered to be the master at portraying. Next to horses, Mêne modeled many sculptures of dogs, both at work and at play. He created bronze sculptures ranging from animal portraits, to combat groups, to domestic animals, and equestrian groups of both racing and hunting. 


Mêne's earliest works reflected Antoine-Louis Barye's influence, but in contrast with the romantic style of Barye, Mêne excelled in realistic portrayals of animals, sculpting each in their natural habitat, capturing fleeting movements and delicate details. 
Generally, his sculptures were portraits with a hint of human personality. Mêne was praised for his "perfection in modeling the figures of animals, and for the truth and beauty of his representations." He worked in the Juste Milieu, blending romantic and naturalist elements while retaining a degree of traditionalism.
Beginning in 1838 Mêne began work at his own foundry, casting his own works and later also those of his son-in-law Auguste Cain. He became absorbed in the meticulous work of casting and chiseling and ensured that they were always checked for quality, color, and finish before they were allowed to leave the foundry. Each cast was of the highest quality and finest patinas. The last cast of an addition was edited as sharply as the first, and he was meticulous in the after work of his bronze casts, chiseling the extremely fine details. His bronzes were signed in block letters "P. J. Mêne" with no foundry marks. Declining many offers to do monuments, Mêne instead concentrated on his successful business of producing and marketing his very popular bronze sculptures. His only sculpture acquired by the State of France during his lifetime was the bronze Mounted Huntsman and His Hounds. 
Auguste Cain, who continued Mêne's foundries from 1879 to 1892. Subsequently, Mêne's models were sold to the Barbedienne and Susse Freres Foundries which cast well into the 20th century. Though of fine quality, these later casts by Barbedienne and Susse Frères do not have the vitality and attention to detail that Mêne achieved on the casts from his own foundry.
Charming and charismatic, Mêne was accepted socially within the various French artistic communities. He was just as comfortable entertaining the intellectuals of Paris as he was with his apron on among his foundry workers. Through his notable charm, he drew the finest craftsmen to work for him in his foundry and his home became a fashionable meeting place for the painters, sculptors, and musicians of Paris.  
It was in 1838 when he first exhibited a bronze statuette at the Paris Salon. From that time on, Mêne exhibited regularly until his death, ultimately receiving four awards from the Salon. Many of Mêne’s subjects were shown to the general public in this popular showcase where acclaim and criticism could be judged before including the subject in his general Oeuvre. This also served to establish public awareness of his new works and provides a useful reference when dating the origin of a particular cast. 
In 1861 Mêne was awarded the Cross of the Legion d'Honneur in recognition for his contributions to art. He exhibited in England at the Great Expositions of 1855, 1867 and 1878, where he was praised as the "Landseer" of sculpture.
Mêne died on 20 May 1879 in Paris, France. He is remembered as one of the finest, and certainly the most prolific, animalier sculptors of all time. 
Today, his works are held in the collections of the Louvre Museum in Paris, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, among others.


An Exceptional Bronze Draft Horse by Pierre Jules Mêne (French, 1810-1879)

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