Isidore-Jules Bonheur began his career as an animal painter, working together with his elder sister Rosa (d. 1899) in the studio of his father, Raymond. 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; see previous lot). The following year, he entered the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and from then onwards concentrated solely on sculpture.
Going on to become one of the 19th century's most distinguished equine sculptors, Bonheur developed a close working relationship with the Parisian founder, Hippolyte Peyrol, who was married to another of his sisters, Juliette. These close ties resulted in the production of exceptionally cast and highly finished bronzes, more often than not identified by Peyrol's miniscule cachet.
One of Bonheur's 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 the two groups, Bonheur in collaboration with Peyrol 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.
Another cast of this rarely seen model was sold Christie's New York, 25 May 1988, lot 182 ($22,000).