Bear Reading the Morning Newspaper
Patinated bronze | cold-stamped FRATIN | Incised signature "FRATIN" and cold-stamped foundry pastille "E Colin & Cie Paris"
Item # 112XLO01A
An exceedingly rare model of Fratin's "Bear Reading the Morning Newspaper" circa 1850 and cast by the foundry of E. Colin & Cie, it is part of Fratin's humorous series of anthropomorphized bears modeled more for his own pleasure than for any commercial purposes. In the present example, the bear rests on a stool that barely supports his weight, his head still donned in a nightcap while he buries his nose in the morning paper of the day, Kölnische Zeitung. At his feet lay his smoking pipe and tobacco pouch.
The model is cold-stamped FRATIN with the reversed N and is incised "FRATIN" along the rounded base edge beside the foundry pastille for E. Colin & Cie.
Similar examples include Fratin's Bear Smoking Pipe, which achieved $ 8,500 at Jackson's (November 19 2014, lot 616, 6.6" high) and 4320 GBP (at the time of sale approx. $ 8,510) at Christie's (Sale 5179, March 26 2007, lot 294). His Dentist Bear achieved 4,560 GBP (approx. $ 8,983 USD at the time of sale) at the same sale and Dentist Bear together with Bear Smoking Pipe sold at Freeman's (March 23 2006, lot 709) for $ 11,875.
Christophe Fratin was one of the earliest sculptors to exclusively depict animals as the central theme of his work, a subject matter that would eventually become known as the Animalier school. His sculpture is perhaps best characterized as being technically and anatomically exact while his ability to work creatively in the surface defined his oeuvre and makes his work immediately recognizable. Where the eye of his patrons had been trained by academic models of the 18th and 19th century to expect crisp chiseling, perfect surfaces and sinuous lines, Fratin departed from the norm with an impressionistic surface that sought to convey movement in these static objects. Almost model put forth by Fratin starts with motion and the movement of the body.
Surprisingly little is known about the life of Christophe Fratin. Most modern references note his birth in 1801, while older reference documents record his birth year as 1800 in Metz, France. His father was a naturalist and a taxidermist, a profession Fratin apprenticed in under his father until 1821. The early influence of his father's profession would impact Fratin's art throughout his life. A criticism of his early work that perhaps arose from this influence is the rigid modeling in his poses, almost as if the animal were being stuffed on his father's work-bench.
Initially studying under Charles Augustin Pioche (French, 1762-1839), a local sculptor who had returned to Metz after a successful career, Fratin was frustrated by the senility of his tutor and moved to Paris. Here he worked in the studio of celebrated painter and sculptor Théodore Géricault, an adventurous artist with vision from whom he gained his lifelong affinity for equestrian subjects as well as his loose surface touch, likened in many ways to the heavy handed impasto of a loose paint brush in the hands of his teacher.
He exhibited at the Paris Salon from 1831 to 1842, with numerous models being recorded by Lami as being rejected towards the end of this period. Taking a break from exhibiting at Salon until after the Revolution, he began submitting work again from 1850 through 1862. The citation with his awarded medal during London's Great Exhibition of 1851 noted him as being the greatest animal sculptor of his day.
Unlike his contemporaries, Antoine-Louise Barye and Pierre Jules Mene, Christophe Fratin had no foundry of his own and relied on the services of Parisian foundries to cast his work for him. These he executed both in terra-cotta and bronze, though much of his terra-cotta work has not survived to the present. He is recorded as having terra-cotta models cast by Susse Freres as early as the 1830s. He funded at his own expense and also largely supervised the casting of a larger portion of his models by Quesnel through 1847, these being almost without exception of exquisite quality. Models were also cast later in his life by the houses of Thiebaut Freres, Daubré, Richard, Eck and Durand as well as Debraux D'Anglure.
While Fratin had great success in his own country, his equestrian models were incredibly popular with patrons in England and he received commissions from Austria, Germany and America. One of his best known commissions was for New York City, a bronze group of two eagles standing guard over their prey, a fallen ram. It is the oldest sculpture in Central Park, completed by Fratin in 1850 and installed in 1863. Fratin died at Raincy in Seine-et-Oise in August of 1864.
His equestrian models are largely regarded as some of his best works, but the series of bears engaged in human-like activities are highly sought-after by collectors - these are notably anthropomorphic, perhaps poking fun at the excesses of such emotional expression in his Romantic contemporaries in their depictions of animal subjects.
Artist Listings & Bibliography:
- E. Benezit Dictionary of Artists, Vol. V, Gründ, 2006, p. 1044
- Bronzes of the Nineteenth Century: A Dictionary of Sculptors, Pierre Kjellberg, p. 322-27
- The Animaliers, James Mackay, p. 61-65, p. 146-47
- The Bronzes of "Les Animaliers", Jane Horswell, p. 81
- Art Bronze, Michael Forrest, p. 475
- Animals in Bronze, Christopher Payne, 2002, p. 404
- Dictionnaire des Sculpteurs de L'École Française, Vol. II, Stanislas Lami, p. 403-405
Measurements: 6 7/8" H x 3 5/8" W x 3 5/8" D
Overall surface in good condition; two legs of the stool have patina loss/discoloration; one modern screw added beneath sculpture where machined post and nut were missing; trace handling wear.
Note, we have closely examined the patina and it appears to have been applied as a chemical overall brown that was supplemented with pigment set in wax to achieve the brick-red hue; as such, no chemicals or heat should be used when cleaning, wax should only be applied cold and as infrequently as possible; a work in this fine condition should only require a light dusting from time to time as needed.