Bronzes & Bronze Statues - Many of the best bronze animals and figures imported into Victorian Britain came from France, Austria and the Orient. Chatelaine's Antiques Collectibles Appraisals


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Chatelaine's Antiques & Appraisals Magazine > Decorative Arts > Collecting Bronzes & Bronze Statues

Sculpture 'Bronzes' and Reproductions

Rodin's The Thinker

The Art Collection of Gianni Versace

Napoleonic Memorabilia

A Chinese Sculpture?

Shiva Sculpture

Thinking Buddha or Not?

Tibetan Gods: Peaceful Dieties

Tibetan Gods: Wrathful Dieties

Bronzes - Bronze Statues

 Many of the best bronze animals and figures imported into Victorian Britain came from France, Austria and the Orient.

Rodin's The Thinker

 Bronze is an alloy of copper and tin, and has been commonly used for metal sculpture for more than 4,000 years. It is particularly suitable for the casting of finely made statues. As it solidifies, it expands, forcing the detail into every crevice of the mould. Then, as it cools, bronze contracts slightly, making t easy to separate from the mould.

 The method of casting known as 'lost-wax casting' was the favourite technique for fine work, but in the 19th century electrotyping was developed. This involved electrolysis, which deposited a very thin layer of bronze on the face of a mould. The result was a flood of accurate and much cheaper metalwork statues to decorate middle-class homes.


 From Italy came quantities of statues inspired by the archaeological discoveries at Pompeii and Heiulaneum. Much of this was of good quality and remains very collectable.

 An alternative to classically inspired human figures was a 19th-century French movement that concentrated on sculpting animals. It was led by Antoine-Louis Barye (1796-1875) who, in his search for realism, studied anatomy by dissecting corpses. The result was a series of vigoron, finely-made animal bronzes.

 Barye opened his own bronze foundry, and cast many of his models himself. These, and those cast by his assistant Gonon and his sons, were of extremely high quality. Barye's success led to the establishment of other animal sculptors in France - the animaliers - including Emmanuel Fremiet, Auguste-Nicolas Cain, Georges Gardet and Pierre-Jules Mene.


 With the success of this trend and the continuing inte est in conventional figure bronzes, some 6,000 men were employed in Paris in the manufacture of popular decorative bronzes by the middle of the 19th century.

 The French sculptor Jules Dalou, who fled to England as a political refugee in 1871, started the fashion for bronzes of peasants. Other favourite subjects of the time included allegorical figures and groups. There were busts of Shakespeare, Napoleon and Mary Queen of Scots, and statuettes of the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Wellington and of boys playing catch. Ornate candlesticks and candelabra were modelled as sea serpents or other exotic designs, and were produced in ormulu.

 Ormolu - from the French ormoulu, meaning 'powdered gold' - was used extensively. By the 19th century the gold dust was usually applied in a varnish. Another method of decorating bronzes was cold-painting. Vienna was particularly noted for this work.

 The subject matter of 19th-century bronzes was wide-ranging and included various classical figures and mythological characters, such as the winged Mercury. Figures from ancient and modern history, as well as animal bronzes, were also very popular.


 Patination is the entirely acceptable natural process or corrosion which occurs with all copper alloys. It is sometimes removed to reveal layering or an inscription, but this is unusual. Generally it should be left untouched because if cleaned - even with the mildest of detergents - it will become patchy.

Judging the date of a bronze by its patina requires great expertise. However, there are other helpful indications. Most obviously, many were signed by the sculptor or marked by the bronze-founder or both. The generally Romantic style of the period is distinctive, and it does not need much experience to discriminate between, say, a finely detailed animal group cast by Barye and a later, poorer copy.


 Decorative 19th-century bronzes were produced in considerable quantities and are readily available in antiques shops today. They also appear at specialist auctions. Bronzes that incorporate ivory are rare. Any subject involving horses is always much sought after, as is anything faintly risque.

 The Far Fast was renowned for its bronze workers. From China came figures of the seated Buddha and the Bodhisattva, along with incense burners and vases. The best Meiji sculptors in Japan produced trumpeting elephants with ivory tusks, as well as animal groups and Japanese figures.

 The colours used to patinate bronzes vary from sculptor to sculptor. Antoine Louis Barye preferred dark greens, while Jules Moigniex, who committed suicide in 1894, favoured black or, on occasions, gilt. A repatinated example will rarely have the same depth of colour as an old bronze, as patination takes many years to become stable.

 After about 1870 in England there was a so-called Renaissance revival, with large, highly-decorated ewers and jugs. But little of importance was cast in England and most people bought work by European sculptors.

 Usually the detail in the bronze determines whether it is out of the ordinary. Of two shying horses of equal quality, for instance, the one which includes a serpent writhing under the fore hooves may fetch twice as much.

 Female nudes command a higher price than male nudes and both will fetch more than a clothed figure. A signature on a statue also increases its value considerably.

 Avoid displaying bronzes in rooms with high humidity, such as kitchens, bathrooms and conservatories. When handling a bronze don't pick it up by an arm or other slender part that might break off. Check mounted figures to see that the rider is securely attached to the horse. Wear cotton gloves to avoid depositing corrosive salts from the fingers on the bronze. Don't polish a bronze or clean it with solvents or water: just dust it.


Still Life Sculpture Project

napoloen bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte bronze busts
Napoleon Sword

Napoleon's Sword & Dagger

Pope Benedict removed the Papal Tiara or The Pope's Crown from the Vatican coat of arms

Still Life Sculpture Project - The Art Gallery of NSW - Chatelaine's Antiques Art and Appraisals Magazine

Still Life brought together work by five of Australia's most innovative younger sculptors. Their sculptures are based in an observation of the material world, and yet rather than a faithful depiction of inanimate objects, it is the flux of our lives that is their subject 

 The sculptures included finely detailed realist carvings, computer-modelled architectural propositions, life-like self-portraits and hallucinatory accumulations of improbable crafted objects. As the title also suggests, time, space and memory are important terms for these works.