The eldest son and heir to King Louis-Philippe, Ferdinand-Philippe, duc d'Orléans, commissioned his legendary surtout de table for the Tuileries in 1834, entrusting the design and coordination of the immense and complicated project to the respected décorateur and ornemaniste, Claude-Aimé Chenavard. No doubt inspired by the magnificent ensembles created by French master goldsmiths of the ancien régime, many of which had graced the dining-rooms of the Orléans dynasty, the young duc, a fervent art collector and champion of innovation, clearly had visions of a grandeur hitherto unseen in the art of table decoration. Seeking to match and, quite possibly, exceed his client's brief, Chenavard's ambitious plans provided for a surtout measuring twenty-one feet long and five feet wide, composed of no less than fifteen figural groups mounted on and set among temples, towers, arches and colonnades, fashioned in silver and gold and encrusted with precious gems. The table was to be installed in a purposely altered hall in the Palais de Tuileries, on a specially constructed table, reinforced to support its considerable weight.
The execution of Chenavard's elaborate designs necessitated the collaboration of some of the period's leading artists, among them Geoffroy-Dechaume, Feuchère, Pradier, Klagmann and Cavelier. However, in every sense, it was Barye's contribution which was to dominate the entire project. He was commissioned to model a total of nine groups, each depicting a different hunt or animal combat scene, imbued with a sense of violence and exoticism that would appeal to the Romantic esprit of the duc. Mounted on a triumphal arch, La Chasse au tigre, depicting hunters spearing tigers from atop a great Indian elephant, would form the centrepiece for the whole surtout. It would be flanked by two groups, portraying respectively the lion and wild bull hunt, and surrounded by four smaller models depicting a tiger devouring an antelope, a lion attacking a boar, a python crushing a gnu, and an eagle descending upon an ibex. At the ends of the table, mounted on elaborate circular temple-from arcaded socles housing smaller sculptures, would be two further groups depicting the Bear hunt and, finally, the Elk hunt, for which the original bronze modèle is offered here (see above Chenavard's design for this element of the surtout).
With the exception of Chasse à l'élan, Barye entrusted the task of casting his five large hunt groups by the 'lost wax' method to Honoré Gonon and his two sons, with whom he had already collaborated closely for the bronze version of his 1831 Salon sensation, Tigre dévorant un gavial. Plaster modèles, retouched 'à la cire' were consequently used for this process. Interestingly, however, this initial sand-cast bronze modèle of Chasse à l'élan was produced by the fondeur, Quesnel, for which he received the sum of 500 francs. The thirty or so individual sections of the cast were subsequently assembled by Auguste Ottin (see illustration above left showing the partial disassembly of the group), who received 700 francs for his assistance. Gonon was involved in the subsequent stages of the fonte, but unlike the other four groups, the final épreuve of Chasse à l'élan (see illustration above right) does not bear his signature.
It has often been thought that the Orléans surtout was never actually completed. Certainly, as the work progressed and became ever more ambitious, so the complications for Chenavard increased, not least the problem of having to construct an even bigger and stronger table to support the weight of continually added pieces. Some have even suggested that Chenavard's premature death in 1838 was brought on by the seemingly insurmountable problems posed by the surtout. However, completed under the direction of his brother, Henri, the finished work was eventually delivered to the Tuileries on 20 April 1839, and in his memoirs, the Prince de Joinville, younger brother of the duc, recounts how guests invited to a costume ball at the Pavillon de Marsan in the winter of 1842 were seated "devant le fameux surtout exécuté sur les dessins de Chenavard par Barye, Pradier, Klagmann..."
The tragically premature death of the duc d'Orléans in a riding accident at the end of 1842 led to the demise of the surtout, whose individual components were dispersed at a sale held by the duchesse, 18-20 January 1853. All five of the hunt groups were acquired by the comte Demidoff and subsequently bought from the latter's sale in 1870 for W. T. Walters. They now form the focal point of the magnificent Barye collection in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore. A second cire perdue cast of Chasse à l'Ours, a model possibly offered in Besse's 1844 catalogue under the title Grande Chasse, is in the Brooklyn Museum, New York. Meanwhile, the wax-heightened plaster modèles relating to Chasse au tigre, Chasse au lion and Chasse au taureau sauvage were acquired by Jacques Zoubaloff in the 1876 Atelier sale (lots 519-521 respectively) and subsequently presented to the Louvre.
This bronze modèle for Chasse à l'élan, seemingly the only one produced for any of Barye's surtout groups, was shown at both the 1875 and 1889 beaux-arts Barye exhibitions (nos. 642 and 497 respectively). At some point between Barye's death and the end of the century, it was acquired by the well-known Parisian art dealer, Aimé Diot (d. 1896). In the preface to the catalogue of the sale of part of Diot's collection in 1897, the collector is referred to as having had "une prédilection, un véritable culte pour le sculpteur animalier Barye", possessing a large quantity of modèles "qu'il avait trouvés ou qui lui avaient été cédés par la famille de l'illustre artiste..."(Vente A. Diot, hôtel Drouot, Paris, 8-9 March, 1897, p. 4). The modèle for Chasse à l'élan was offered as lot 200 in the sale ("Modèle d'après le plâtre"), but as the price-list appears to indicate, it was not sold. It was not re-offered in the second Diot sale, held some thirty-five years later in 1933, so one can only assume it was acquired by Eduardo Guinle some time before then. Either way, like all of the modèles now revealed in this undocumented collection, it has been untraced for at least the last seventy-five years.