A humourous subject, quite untypical of Barye's oeuvre, Singe monté sur un gnou was almost certainly inspired by an engraving after Thomas Landseer (d.1880), appearing in Barrow's Humourous Portraits of Animals, published in London in 1832. Proof of this is the existence of a faithful copy of the drawing by Barye in the collection of the musée du Petit-Palais, Paris (inv. 1042). Inspiration for the work may also have come from a gnu named 'Jack', who arrived at the Jardin des Plantes zoo in 1836, and who was dissected before Barye after dying the following year. Probably dating from shortly afterwards, the model was offered in Besse's 1844 catalogue under the title Singe et gnou à cheval. Poletti and Richarme estimate the total number of lifetime épreuves to be less than fifty. The modèle was acquired at the Atelier sale by Brame and subsequently edited in a smaller number.
Another cast of this rarely seen model was sold Sotheby's London, 8 March 1984, lot 192 (£8,250).