ISIDORE-JULES BONHEUR (FRENCH, 1827-1901)
ISIDORE-JULES BONHEUR (FRENCH, 1827-1901)

The Steeplechase

Details
ISIDORE-JULES BONHEUR (FRENCH, 1827-1901)
The Steeplechase
signed I. BONHEUR and stamped PEYROL
bronze, mid/dark-brown patina, on wooden plinth
The bronze: 34½ in. (87.6 cm.) high
Literature
See C. Payne, Animals in Bronze, Woodbridge, 1986, p. 345, for an illustration of another cast.

Lot Essay

Born in Bordeaux in 1827, Isidore-Jules Bonheur began his career working with his elder sister Rosa (d. 1899) in the studio of their father, drawing instructor Raymond Bonheur. Although best-known as one of the 19th Century's most distinguished animalier sculptors, Bonheur initially worked as a painter. He made his Salon debut in 1848 with the painting Cavalier africain attaqué par une lionne, and a plaster group of the same subject (no. 4619), although as a painter, his brushwork was relatively undistinguished. The following year, he entered the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and from then onwards concentrated solely on sculpture, whereupon his true talent in the medium became apparent.

The English were particularly appreciative of Bonheur's fine and wide range of equestrian works and consequently the artist exhibited at the Royal Academy in the 1870's. Bonheur gained great success with equine figures and groups, and one of his important large equestrian studies, Un cavalier, époque Louis XV was shown in bronze at the 1879 Salon (no. 4816) alongside Le Grand Jockey (no. 4817), his best-known horse and jockey group. No doubt realising the commercial potential of these large equestrian groups, Bonheur exhibited them again at the 1883 Exposition Nationale (nos. 893 and 894) and, for a third time, at the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle (no. 1690), where he was awarded the coveted Médaille d'Or.

Bonheur created several powerful variations on the quintessentially English steeplechase theme. His various models, cast in a range of sizes, display one, two, and even three horses at a time captured in mid-jump. It is possible that the present monumental group is the one referred to in Lami as La Saut de la haie. The plaster model was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1882 (no. 4132), the bronze in 1884 (no. 3301), and the bronze again at the Exposition Universelle in 1889 (no. 1692) (S. Lami, Dictionnaire des Sculpteurs de l'Ecole Français au dix-neuvième siècle, Paris, 1914, vol V, p. 129).
Another example of this rare model, edited by Boudet, is illustrated in Christopher Payne's Animals in Bronze, pl. H189, where it is identified as "two steeplechasers taking a brushwood fence". A related model with three horses, likely the model referred to in Kjellberg as Course de steeple (trois chevaux sautant une haie), appeared at Sotheby's London, 12 November 1997, lot 423 (P.J. Kjellberg, Les Bronzes du XIX siècle, Paris 1989, pp. 101-103).

Bonheur had a close working relationship with his brother-in-law, the celebrated Parisian founder Hippolyte Peyrol, who was married to his sister Juliette. These close ties resulted in the production of exceptionally cast and finely chased bronzes, often identified by Peyrol's miniscule cachet. Edited by Peyrol, the detailing of the present cast is superior, suggesting a close understanding between founder and sculptor.
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