Exceptional mid 19th Century French bronze study of an anthropomorphic bear sitting in an armchair reading a book and smoking a pipe, there are various books scattered on the floor exemplifying the satirical nature of the subject. The surface of the bronze has rich deep brown patina and excellent hand chased surface detail, signed Fratin to top and side of base.
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Height: 17.2 cm
Width: 11.5 cm
Depth: 9 cm
Condition: Excellent Original Condition
Book reference: Animals in Bronze by Christopher Payne
Page Number: 68, B1
The Philosopher Bear
One of the most sought after of the artist's series of bears, this subject is shown as far removed as he could be from his natural environment. He is depicted as a bourgeois gentleman, relaxing at home in his slippers, smoking a pipe and dipping into an assortment of books relating to the current scientific debate on evolution and man's position vis-a-vis the animal kingdom. On closer examination, the titles of the books reveal the highly satirical nature of the piece.
The book he is reading is entitled: Essais de Physiologie - L'homme est éléve au niveau des bêtes - 'Essays on Physiology - Man has attained the level of the beast'.
The inside pages read: La Puce - L'homme a souvent la puce à l'oreille - 'The Flea - Man often has a flea in his ear' idiom - Man is often suspicious about something.
La Mouche - Quand la mouche vous pique on est vexé - 'The Fly - When the fly bites one is annoyed'. Has the artist deliberately chosen idioms which refer to the flea and the fly, both of whcih would have infested the bear in his natural state?
The back cover of the book reads: Paris - Rue de la ville L'Évêque, 42 - Fratin adds a little humourous touch here by choosing to put his own address on the back of the book.
The books on the ground are entitled: L'Essai sur les grandes religions par un nain tolérant - 'Essay on the major religions by a tolerant dwarf' - there is the possibility that Fratin is alluding to himself here, as the only representations of him that we have in reference, namely his self portrait and a caricature by Dantan show the artist to be somewhat small in stature.
Conclusions sur l'histoire universelle oeuvres non terminées - 'Conclusions on the history of the world, unfinished works'.
Contrat social par J.J.Rousseau, à l'usage des misanthropes - 'Social Contract by J.J. Rousseau for the use of misanthropes'. Moliéres play Le Misanthropehad first appeared in 1666. Nearly a century later, Rousseau denounced the comic aspect of the play, taking the view that a discussion on morality should not be used as a subject for humour. This sparked a controversy amongst French men of letters with polemical pieces flying back and forthe between them. There was even a piece of music written by Demoutier in 1790 called Le Misanthrope corrigé - The Misanthrope corrrected.
Beaux traits de l'humanité - petit livre - 'Good traits of humanity - small book'
Verité de la Fontaine - idiom. A pack of lies. That's the truth about La Fontaine/that's what La Fontaine is about'. Fratin may be playing on words here since the juxtaposition of words on the book with the omssion of the definite articles gives the more idiomatic meaning. The Fables of La Fontaine were published in France in the 17th Century and had been newly popularised in Fratins's time by the publication of the illustrated version by Grandville.
Christopher Fratin, French 1801 ~ 1864
also known as Christophe Fratin, was a noted French sculptor in the animalier
style, and one of the earliest French sculptors to portray animals in bronze. Fratin was born in Metz, Moselle, France the son of a taxidermist
. He first studied drawing under Pioche in Metz and later worked in Paris at the studio of Théodore Géricault.
He exhibited at the Paris Salon from 1831–1842 and 1850–1862, as well as at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851. Fratin never signed his bronzes but instead used a stamp showing his last name in straight block letters. One of the stamps he used (pictured) showed the "n" reversed, not by design but due to an error on the part of the maker of the stamp. Bronzes bearing this stamp have the appearance of not seeming to be genuine when in reality this foible is actually an indicator of authenticity.
Fratin received monumental commissions in France and elsewhere, including the Deux Aigles Gardant Leur Proie (Eagles and Prey, created 1850) displayed since 1863 in New York City's Central Park. Many of his small bronzes—including his miniature bronzes which were more affordable due to their smaller size—were sold commercially to the general public during his lifetime. Today, Fratin's sculpture is on permanent display in the Louvre, the city museums of Metz, Lyon, Strasbourg, Nîmes and at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. The Georg Eisler archive in Vienna also has on display works by Fratin.
A number of Fratin's pieces portray horses, especially portraits of famous horses such as Fermer, cheval anglais pur-sang, a wax of which he debuted at the Salon of 1831, the same exhibition in which Barye's Tigre dévorant un gavial was featured.
At Montrouge Square in Paris appears a colossal bronze group standing 2 meters high entitled Cheval attaqué par un lion, executed in 1852. Fratin received many commissions from the State including groups designed for the botanical garden and the esplanade of his hometown; amongst the groups were two dogs, a deer at bay, a purebred horse, and some eagles.
Fratin also produced a number of whimsical bear sculptures, including Le Père Odry and Ours jouant de la cornemuse which shows a bear holding a musical instrument. Fratin was highly regarded for his animal sculpture, in which he expressed a sympathetic and sensitive understanding of the animal's forms. This, in the early stages, was presumably influenced by his father, who was a taxidermist. Fratin also studied under the Romantic artist Gericault.
Although he exhibited prolifically at the Salon (1831-1839, and 1850 -1864) and at the Great Exhibition of 1851, these anthropomorphic portrayal of bears were for private amusement.
Fratin worked very closely with the Paris foundries which produced his bronzes and many of his casts bear his personal stamp which has the "N" in his name reversed, as in the case of this bronze.
Click on this link for details of a similar cast sold at auction in 2007.
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