Dear Helaine and Joe: I purchased this bronze figure of a horse for $3,000. It weighs 39 pounds and is 13 inches tall and 17 inches long. It is signed "P.J. Mene." What is it worth?
Thank you. P.B., Indian Trail, N.C.
Dear P.B.: Western art since the time of the ancient Greeks has focused largely on the idealization of man. But during the 19th century a group of European artists abandoned this point of view and began to ennoble the members of the animal kingdom. These artists were under the influence of such romantic philosophers as Jean Jacques Rousseau, and they became known as "Les Animaliers."
Previously, when an artist depicted an animal the beast tended to be shown in captivity and somewhat subdued. Animaliers portrayed their animals out in nature with jaws snapping, manes flowing and hooves flashing. One of the main proponents of this type of art was Antoine-Louis Bayre. Another was the ostensible maker of the figure of a horse shown here Pierre Jules Mene.
Mene was born in Paris, France, in 1810 and some say that he was the most commercially successful and prolific of all the Animalier sculptors. Mene's father was a metal worker, and he taught his son to work with metal at an early age. As a young man, Pierre Jules earned his living making metal ornaments to decorate furniture and clocks.
Mene was essentially a self-taught artist, and around 1837 he established his first foundry to cast bronze figures. In 1838 Mene exhibited his first bronze sculpture at the Paris Salon, and he continued to exhibit his animal sculptures at the Salon until his death in 1877. Over the years, he won a number of prizes for his work, including first class medals won at the London Exhibitions of 1855 and 1861.
Mene sculpted a variety of animals including dogs, birds, sheep, rabbits and stags, but his favorite subject by far was horses. Among the animaliers, he is considered to be the master portrayer of horses. It is thought that Mene created more than 150 images during his lifetime. Mene cast these pieces in relatively large numbers and sold them throughout Europe and the United States.
After his death in 1877, Mene's son-in-law, Auguste Cane, continued to produce Mene's bronzes. When the foundry finally closed in 1892, many of the models were acquired by the Susse (or Swiss) Freres foundry, which continued to produce them well into the 20th century.
It should be understood that original P.J. Mene bronzes are vastly outnumbered by later recasts, and this is always an issue when determining the value of any given piece that bears Mene's signature. The specialists we consulted felt that the example belonging to P.B. is probably an original, but an in-person inspection by an expert would be necessary to verify the authenticity of the piece and obtain as formal insurance replacement value appraisal.Another important issue in determining the value of a Mene bronze is the condition of the surface or the patina that was applied when the piece was made. Unfortunately, the surface on this piece looks to be at least slightly degraded and this could adversely affect the value. This, however, may be a problem with the photograph. If the patinated surface is original and in good condition this piece should be insured in the $8,000 to $10,000 range.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson are the authors of "Price It Yourself" (HarperResource, $19.95). Questions can be mailed to them at P.O. Box 12208, Knoxville, TN 37912-0208.