Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The call of nature at auction

UK gallerist Edward Horswell has reported a growing interest in all things animal related, especially lions, tigers and bears immortalized in bronze. "Our perennial love of animals and a postcrisis quest for quality have led to six-and-seven-figure prices for bronze animal figures, whether 19th, 20th or 21st century," said Mr Horswell.

The mid-19th century marked a turning point for animalier, the French word for the school of artists who made animals their subjects (and frequently used zoos for inspiration). Mr Horswell reports, "animalier has been stubbornly recession proof. Since the banking crisis, we're finding that bronzes from the 19th century are particularly strong. Prices for the very best pieces have increased by at least 50 percent in the past ten years."

Some of the biggest stars of the period are Isidore Bonheur, Pierre-Jules Mene, and the so-called Michelangelo of the Menagerie, Antoine-Louis Barye. In the early 20th century, Rembrandt Bugatti, a member of the Italian automotive family, created the genre's most coveted pieces. Today his work, based on subjects in the Antwerp Zoo, can fetch millions.

Above: Bugatti's Babouin Sacré Hamadryas (1909–10), one of 11 casts, sold for a stunning $2.3 million at Sotheby's in late 2006, driven up in part by buyers pushed out of the market for Giacometti sculpture, which now can sell for $20 million. (The previous Bugatti baboon on the market--in 2000 at Tajan in Paris--brought in about $965,000.)

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