Published: February 12, 2002
JACKSON HOLE, WYO. – This past fall, the National Museum of Wildlife Art acquired “Tiger Observing Cranes” (circa 1890), a significant painting by French Salon artist Jean-Leon Gerome.
Gerome was a member of an established cadre of painters who dominated French artistic life for most of the Nineteenth Century. Among the most celebrated artists in this circle were Jacques Louis David (1748-1824). The NMWA owns one painting by Gericault, “Two Lions” (after Peter Paul Rubens, circa 1820) and a lithograph by Delacroix, “Le Tigre Royale” circa 1829). At the end of the Nineteenth Century, Salon painters fell out of repute as the modern movement took over, headed by artists such as Claude Monet (1840-1926) and Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919).
Gerome’s “Tiger” is a prime example of the exotic subject matter and smooth, realist style that dominated the French Salon in the middle to late 1800s. Salon painters grew fascinated by Asia, Arabia and Morocco, and this is reflected in their paintings. Gerome began a series of tiger paintings in 1882 and continued painting tiger scenes until the end of his life. The Metropolitan Museum of Art owns one Gerome on a similar theme, “Tiger and Cubs.”
The NMWA’s “Tiger Observing Cranes” appears to be set on the northern Coast of Africa, which is not a region inhabited by tigers. This mattered little to Gerome, as the probable intent of the work was to evoke an otherworldly, foreign realm, not necessarily an actual place or authentic situation for his European audience.
“Tiger Observing Cranes” is a significant addition to the museum’s permanent collection. It is a painting that is not only a beautiful object in and of itself, but also one that speaks to the universality and importance of wildlife in the greater history of art.
Another significant acquisition for the museum is the sculpture “Panther Attacking a Stag” by Antoine-Louis Barye (1796-1875). Produced in 1857, this work is a prime example of Barye’s stunning work as an animalier.
Barye is an enormously important artist in the history of wildlife art because he gained acceptance in the French Salons with his animal bonzes. Many of Barye’s best pieces resemble “Panther Attacking a Stag” in their depictions of highly dramatic confrontations between predator and prey.
The son of a Paris goldsmith, Barye was already familiar with modeling and metalworking techniques when he commenced formal training at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1819. In 1824, he joined the workshop of a high-ly regarded Parisian goldsmith, Jacques Henri Fauconnier, where he further refined his metalworking skills and began designing and casting small animal bronzes.
To hone his skill, Barye spent hours sketching animals at the Jardin des Plantes and master paintings at the Louvre. Wild animals increasingly drew his attention and study, and he began attending lectures on animal life and anatomy. He also began to sculpt larger works and submit them to the salons and academies, many of which were exhibited in the 1830s and also in 1850.
“Panther Attacking a Stag” is one of several Barye artworks in the NMWA collection, including his masterpiece “Jaguar Devouring a Hare,” 1850.
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