Pierre Jules Mêne, (P. J. Mêne), was born in Paris in March 25, 1810. The son of a metal turner, he received his earliest teaching on sculpture and founding from his father. Although mostly self-taught, Mêne studied with and was encouraged by sculptor Rene Compaire. He was influenced by two painters: Landseer of England with his expressive sentimentality, as well as Carle Vernet of France, capturing the latter’s spirit, grace and beauty of compositions in sculptural form. Much of his early studies were at the “Jardin des Plantes” in Paris, where he developed great talent for animal sculpture. He first exhibited the bronze statuette entitled Dog and Fox at the Paris Salon in 1838, where he exhibited regularly until his death. He received four awards from the Paris Salon: Second Class in 1848, First Class in 1852 and 1861, and a Third Class award in 1855. Mêne did not sculpt statues, but rather bronze statuettes generally of domestic and farm animals, (horses, dogs, bulls, and sheep). He modeled over 150 subjects, and received the “Cross of the Legion of Honor” in 1861. He exhibited in England at the Great Expositions of 1855, 1867 and 1878, where he was praised as the “Landseer” of sculpture.
P.J. Mêne was one of the most prolific and popular member and sculptors of the Animaliers, a 19th century French group of artists founded by Antoine-Louis Barye that used animals as the primary subject of their art. His sculptures were widely collected by the public. His bronze sculpture, Mounted Huntsman and his hounds was acquired by the State of France.
He opened his own foundry in the 1850s, creating lost-wax castings of his sculptures in bronze. Mêne’s earliest works, Tiger and Alligator, reflected Antoine-Louis Barye’s influence. His style evolved to contrast with the romantic style of Barye. He excelled in realistic portrayals of animals, sculpting each in their natural habitat, capturing fleeting movements and delicate details. Generally, his sculptures were portraits with a hint of human personality. Mêne was praised for his “perfection in modeling the figures of animals, and for the truth and beauty of his representations.” He worked in the “Juste Milieu,” blending romantic and naturalist elements while retaining a degree of traditionalism.
Mêne’s casts were of the highest quality and patinas. The last cast of an addition was edited as sharply as the first. He was meticulous in the after work of his bronze casts, chiseling extremely fine details. His bronzes were signed in block letters “P. J. Mene” with no foundry marks.
Pierre-Jules Mêne died on May 21, 1879. His son-in-law, Auguste Cain, continued Mêne’s foundries from 1879 to 1892. Subsequently, Mêne’s models were sold to the Susse Freres Foundry which cast well into the 20th century, all of which bear their foundry mark or seal.
Literature documenting the life of Pierre Jules Mêne;
Les Animaliers by Jane Horswell, 1971
The Animaliers by James Mackay, 1973
Animals in Bronze by Christopher Payne, 1986
Bronzes of the 19th Century by Pierre Kjellberg, 1994
A Concise History of Bronzes by George Savage, 1968
Dictionnaire des Paintres et Sculpteurs by E. Benezit, 1966
Dictionnaire des Sculpteurs de l’ecole Francaise by Stanaslas Lami, 1914