Isidore Bonheur (1827 – 1901) was one of the most renowned artists of the French Animalier school. Born on May 15th in Bordeaux, as a young boy he exhibited great artistic aptitude from an early age, being tutored in drawing and painting by his father. In 1849, at the age of 22, he enrolled at the École des Beaux Arts, but had already made his debut at the Paris Salon of 1848. His first entry was a painting entitled “African Horseman Attacked by a Lion” an early demonstration of his aptitude for animalier subjects. From then on he regularly exhibited at the Salon, and also rapidly began showing both paintings and bronzes at the Royal Academy in London, winning a gold medal at the Exposition Universelle of 1889.
Bonheur’s popularity and success increased tremendously with the debut of his Animalier sculpture. Sheep and cattle became the main subjects of his models. Bonheur's fascination with cattle and his ability to capture their character but also their anatomical features is superbly demonstrated in his model of a “Taureau Debout” (see right) a large and impressive study of a bull with head raised having excellent hand chased surface detail and rich brown patina. He aptly captured the placid attitude of cows and the aggressive restlessness of bulls. Bonheur was equally adept at modelling sheep, dogs and later in his career, equestrian figures. Two superb models of bulls, exhibited in plaster at the Salon of 1865, were commissioned, on a monumental scale, for the palace of the Sultan of Constantinople.
Bonheur’s best quality sculptures were cast by his brother-in-law, Hippolyte Peyrol, one of the premier founders of the time. The Peyrol casts for both Rosa and Isidore Bonheur are exceptionally well executed, which suggests a strong working relationship between the founder and sculptor. The 'Peyrol' stamp also serves to authenticate a cast made during the lifetime of Bonheur.
There is little doubt that Isidore Bonheur was an acute observer of nature; his animals were not anthropomorphised, but modelled to catch movement or posture characteristic of the particular species. He achieved this most successfully with his sculptures of horses, which are usually depicted as relaxed rather than spirited, and which are among his most renowned works.