Art: The Bronze Menagerie

No eminent Victorian's mantelpiece was complete without its little bronze animal, but even before Swedish modern had come along to sweep the house clean of dust catchers, such sentimental statuary had already wound up in the flea market. Most of it was indeed cloying bric-a-brac, but not all. Certain early 19th century French artists, quite logically called les animaliers, made small sculptures, of fauna filled with direct, vibrant naturalism.

With the blessings of Jean Jacques Rousseau's atavistic philosophy, les animaliers abandoned the Greek and Renaissance art, which idealized man, and started ennobling the beasts. Previously, animal sculptors had showed animals as they...

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