Barye, considered the undisputed master of animalier
sculpture, used animal subjects to represent the extremes of power and emotion which were central to the Romantic movement. The Cheval turc
is generally regarded as the model which most powerfully epitomises his unique sculptural vision.
Barye learnt his sculptural technique in the studio of François-Joseph Bosio, a favourite sculptor of the Napoleonic court. He continued his studies under the painter Antoine-Jean Gros, the successor of neo-classicist Jacques-Louis David. But perhaps the most formative studies Barye undertook were his own visits to the Paris zoo, the Jardin des Plantes, where he sketched the animals directly from nature. As a talented draughtsman Barye produced thousands of drawings and the strong silhouettes of his compositions, particularly evident in the present model, derive from his draughtsman's sense of shape and profile which he expertly transposed into three dimensions. The Cheval Turc
triumphantly presents Barye's supreme grasp of anatomy and drama and, as the author of the 1844 Besse catalogue wrote, 'the only feeling that one can experience upon seeing it is a deep admiration both for one of nature's most noble creatures and the talent of its delineator'.
The success of the Cheval Turc
persuaded Barye to issue four different versions of the model, two with rectangular bases (as in the present example) and with either front right or left leg raised, and two with oval bases, again with front right or left leg raised. Cheval turc No. 2
was, in fact, the first model edited, with Cheval turc No. 1
, a slightly less stylised model, being offered as a new model in 1874. Created circa 1840, the present design is described as Cheval marchant
in the 1844 Besse catalogue, and the variants with front right and left leg raised respectively are presented as pendants in Barye's 1860 catalogue.
M. Poletti and A. Richarme, Barye, Catalogue raisonné des sculptures, Paris, 2000, no. A 128; W.R. Johnston and S. Kelly, Untamed: The Art of Antoine-Louis Barye, Munich, London and New York, 2006, no. 57, pp. 158-159