Judith Ann Moriarty
The Big Hunt

Bayre Bronzes at the Allis

By - Nov 18th, 2011 04:00 am
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charles allis art

Bayre’s “Lion,” at the Charles Allis Museum of Art.

You could tramp the landscape, armed to the teeth and camouflaged, hoping to bag a deer. Or you could visit the Charles Allis Art Museum and hunt for animals trapped in six vitrines on the second floor, through Jan. 16.

The Allis’ collection of Bayre Bronzes (the Michelangelo of the Menagerie) includes Stag Calling, Stag and Reindeer. Small and just right for a narrow mantle or shelf, the signed sculptures perhaps graced mantles and shelves in the Allis’ Wauwatosa home. Cast from moulds, they are a hybrid of high art and collectables. They show the owners t0 be hip enough to attach themselves to things French, but not too French. After all, the Allis wealth came from good old industry of the American kind.

charles allis art

Julius Starke’s “Magic Cabinet,” from the Allis’ permanent collection.

Dromedaries, camels (one hump or two?), hares (populating an entire vitrine), dogs both kneeling and reclining, a puma, and a lion and a lioness, take you into a natural world free of heroic men mounted on steaming chargers.

Antoine-Louis Bayre’s (1796-1875) pere was a goldsmith, so Antoine learned his craft early on. Eventually, he locked horns with the Academie Royale, staunch proponents of Neoclassical works. They deemed his miniature menagerie too romantic and lacking in the heroic factor, i.e. macho males on macho steeds. He ended up snared in the debate and his career skinned alive. Temporarily. In 1826, all of his pieces were rejected from the Academy’s Salon. By 1868, Romanticism had won the chase and Bayre was welcomed as a Member of the Institute.

Curator Martha Monroe’s smartly worded text panels are on the south wall. She kindly supplied me with a Catalogue Rasisonne. I discovered the artist was wildly prolific and produced works both romantic and heroic. Son Alfred followed in his steps, dishonestly so. His offspring (and other cads) imitated Bayre’s style and signed the pieces “Bayre.” But they weren’t the work of Antoine-Louis.

As a sidebar in the gallery, a collection of light-as-air Bruno Ertz watercolors enlivens the bronze nature theme.

When I exited the room, there in a glass case was more work from the Allis’ permanent collection, work never before displayed. Julius Starke, a German émigré and carver of wood of various kinds, created an inlaid beauty titled Magic Cabinet. The amateur naturalist caught the Allis’ fancy when they visited Yosemite. The cabinet resembles a fairytale embellished with drawers and secret places It’s fascinating.

Beneath the cabinet of wonders, a ruler fashioned from inlaid wood seems to be taking measure of all things marvelous. The Charles Allis is one of those marvels.

Michelangelo of the Menagerie: Bayre Bronzes from the Charles Allis Art Collection, now through Jan. 16. Charles Allis Art Museum, 1801 N. Prospect Ave.

Categories: A/C Feature 2, Art

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