This important marble is almost certainly the Génie de la Marine exhibited by Jean De Bay at the Paris Salon of 1833 and later in the collection of M. Hoppe, an Amsterdam banker (Lami, op. cit., p. 127). It represents a winged putto, probably Cupid, braving a current in a small shell boat. Steering with an oar, he is boldly seated on a folded sail, indicating his resolve to determine his own course and speed. Rather than being simply an allegory of seafaring, by showing the God of Love, the composition may allude to the persistence of love against all odds. The sculptor's skill is evident in his confident handling of the marble; note Cupid's beautifully formed ringlets of hair, his finely rendered, feathery wings, and the gently undulating waves of the sea.
The son of the eminent Belgian-born sculptor of the same name, Jean-Baptiste-Joseph De Bay established a successful career in his own right, becoming one of France's most significant sculptors of his day. Born in Nantes in 1902, De Bay studied with his father, entering the École des Beaux-Arts in 1820. Following his early career at the Salon, he was awarded the Prix de Rome in 1829, and it was during his sojourn in the Eternal City that the present marble was carved. Having returned to Paris, De Bay remained sought-after and prolific until his death. He worked on several important buildings, including the Palais du Louvre and the churches of Madeleine and Saint-Eustache, as well as executing numerous commemorative statues, some of which are at the Musée de Versailles. The Musée du Louvre preserves a bronze group entitled Le Génie de la chasse (inv. no. RF 149), which was shown at the Universal Exhibition of 1855 and earned De Bay a second-class medal.
S. Lami, Dictionnaire des Sculpteurs de l'école française au dix-neuvième siècle, Paris, 1916, vol. 2, pp. 126-132; J. Gaborit (ed.), Sculpture française II - Renaissance et temps modernes, cat. Musée du Louvre, Paris, 1998, vol. 1, p. 326