Amongst Bonheur's wide variety of animal sculptures shown at the Salon were a number of mounted equestrian models including three studies of jockeys on horseback, exhibited in 1864, 1879 and 1886. The most famous of these is Le Grand Jockey, of which the present lot is a fine example. The work shows a victorious jockey patting his horse on the neck in congratulation. First exhibited at the 1879 Salon in bronze, under the title Un Jockey, it was displayed alongside another equestrian group, Un cavalier, époque de Louis XV (nos. 4817 & 4816 respectively; see Christie's New York, 28 October 2003, lot 257 for a cast of the latter).
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, as here, by Peyrol's miniscule cachet. The Salon entries indicate that Bonheur's atelier was at the time 'Chez M. Peyrol, rue de Crussol, 14'. Four years later, Bonheur and Peyrol had evidently realised the commercial potential of these equestrian models, for Bonheur exhibited them again at the Exposition Nationale des Beaux Arts of 1883 (nos. 893 & 894) and for a third time at the Exposition Universelle of 1889, when he was awarded the prestigious Medaille d'Or. The widely popular Le Grand Jockey was subsequently edited in four different sizes.