Barye Cheval Turc
Barye was a craftsman in bronze almost as much as he was a sculptor. He was a sort of nineteenth century Cellini. His then new techniques of casting, chiseling and patination are the cornerstone of modern bronze work and have not been substantially developed since his time.
Bronze Modelling and Casting Process
The original inspiration for any subject cast in bronze is usually modelled in one of two basic materials, clay or less commonly in wax. It is normally considered difficult to model directly to wax but those who have mastered the technique find that this medium has infinite flexibility and responds more easily to those precise but necessary deft touches that can make all the difference to the completed work. One of the most charming and fascinating aspects is where, in the finished cast bronze, traces of finger or thumb prints can be found. Modelling in either wax or clay usually requires the use of an armature, formed from wood or metal canter sections with heads and limbs indicated by the attachment of looped wires. This part firm, part flexible grid is then covered in the modelling material, which is slowly but surely built up. The flexibility of the extremities of the armature allow the sculptor to bend the limbs and attitude of the model to suit the requirements of both his original conception and the finished bronze. It goes without saying, therefore, that that the actual size and scale of the armature must be exactly accurate otherwise there is more than a danger of the finished model appearing out of proportion. The more time and trouble taken over the original scaling, the better the result.
In the case of very small model, French clay can be used without an armature. Its adhesive qualities are better that those of English clay and it keeps its shape more readily. Clay modelling in itself, especially small work without the use of an armature, is a skill that can be learnt even by an amateur, the quality of the results alone determining whether or not the modeller has talent. Many of the successful late 19th and early 20th Century sculptors in America spent their formative and childhood years modelling clay animals on river banks using mud they found there, and had no formal training. The process of hand modelling in this was is essentially a process of creativity. Only the creator of the sculpture himself can put the ideas he has formulated into reality, his mind directing the movement of his hands and the subtlety of his fingers directing that essential but slight movement of the clay that makes his work distinctive and unique.
Once the clay model is finished to the sculptor’s satisfaction then it must be cast in plaster as the clay model will bend and shrink in a comparatively short time. A three dimensional model must be piece moulded in plaster of Paris, whose highly efficient water absorbing qualities mean that the powder will rapidly go off or harden. Several individual layers of the mixture are then put over the model, each one hardening in turn and coalescing with the previous layer, forming a sound bond.
The plaster of Paris is layed on in layers to prevent any shrinking in the clay due to the low, but nevertheless inevitable heat given off by the mixture of water and the calcium sulphate in the plaster. Only the smaller, simpler moulds can be cast in one plaster mould and sectional casting requires the highly skilled placing of numerous shims, today normally made of brass with a complicated arrangement of stops and lock holes to aid reconstruction of the hardened negative sections. Before modern day techniques were available to braze a rigid framework of brass shims together the caster would insert clay diving strips.
The hardened plaster mould must then be gently washed out and lubricated with soap, clay water or in some cases oiled to ensure that the completed positive final result parts from the negative sections with ease and without damaging the model. Once the hardening process is completed the negative may be, literally, broken away, eased by the application of a suitable lubricant. The waste-mould, which would not be expected to break off in neat sections, is then thrown away as it has no more use. Obviously, depending on the complications and extremities of the model, a great deal of care and skill must be employed to break away the mould without damaging the newly emerging positive final result. The finished plaster may then require some sanding or more forcible rasping to clean off any impurities or runs, a task ideally preformed by the sculptor himself.
The drying out process usually takes a few hours. It must be remembered at this stage that any severe damage to the positive would result in disaster as the negative deteriorates as it is removed and the original clay model would have been thrown away. One process commonly used to facilitate breaking away the waste mould on larger models is the technique of laying a series of cotton threads on the inside of the negative mould. In the intermediate stages of the plaster hardening, the threads can be pulled through the waste mould outwards. The sections left by this mould will still adhere to the positive but greatly facilitate the removal of the various, now comparatively small windows.
Animal sculpture was not only confined to bronze and plaster. Barye in his early years modelled small animals for the court goldsmith.
To view more Barye bronzes please click here.