Isidore-Jules Bonheur came from an exceptional family of artists. He first trained under his painter father, Raymond Bonheur, before developing a talent for modelling. As an animalier he followed in the footsteps of his celebrated older sister Rosa Bonheur who was an internationally famous artist and personality. Isidore’s brother Auguste was also a painter. In 1848, Isidore, Rosa, Auguste and their father Raymond all exhibited at the Paris Salon. Isidore’s second sister Juliette also had an impact on the family’s artistic fortunes when she married the bronze founder and sculptor Hippolyte Peyrol who went on to cast many of Isidore’s and Rosa’s models. Hippolyte and Juliette's son, François-Auguste-Hippolyte Peyrol, became a painter and studied under both his uncle and aunt.
Although Isidore has sometimes been in the shadow of his famous sister, his reputation as one of the foremost animalier sculptors of the nineteenth century is undisputed. Both siblings were horse-mad. In their youth the two had played at horse-riding, with Isidore holding a pencil in his teeth by way of a bit. Writing to congratulate her brother on having been made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour in 1895 Rosa referred to him as her 'dear old fellow-horse'.
Little has been written on Isidore. He remained very close to his sister Rosa and carved a thriving career for himself without being overly concerned with competing with her fame. His friend the painter Paul Chardin described him as ‘…grave, even taciturn, but exceedingly good-hearted, and devoted to his friends, whom he was always willing to oblige. He possessed much talent and individuality... In his artistic work as a sculptor of animals, he showed great correctness of design and a skilled hand that recalled his sister's so far as the execution of details was concerned.'
This fine and important double steeplechaser model has been described as ‘one of the finest and largest groups in the animalier field’ by Christopher Payne in his seminal reference book Animals in Bronze. The horses sweat and strain, thundering over the fence at a thrilling pace. This substantial group was one of Bonheur’s most ambitious compositions, and he meets the challenge victoriously. His characteristic acute observation of nature is infused with vigorous movement as he precisely captures the exhilaration of the steeplechase.
Stanton, pp. 50-7 & 211; Rosa Bonheur, pp. 21-35; Payne, p. 345
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