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Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011

Charles Allis Presents 'Michelangelo of the Menagerie'

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In the small, second-story gallery at the Charles Allis Art Museum, a bronze animal menagerie can be viewed under glass. The museum's current exhibition, “Michelangelo of the Menagerie: Barye Bronzes from the Charles Allis Art Collection,” presents a prestigious sculptural collection purchased by the Allis family.

With approximately 20 artworks restored to viewing from storage, the exhibition showcases Antoine-Louis Barye (1795-1875), a sculptor from the Romantic era who embraced the aesthetics of the period. In direct contrast to Neoclassical traditions, Romantic art revealed emotion, expressiveness and a reflection of the natural world one could meditate on. Barye was revered in his era, during the early to mid-19th century—his bronze works were highly collected and sought after both for teaching purposes and exhibitions. His sculptures reveal expertise in the molding of this metal.

Several pieces illustrate the Romantic tenets that Barye skillfully included in his art. The diminutive sculpture Buck, Doe and Fawn portrays a nursing babe and mother deer near a father (with his impressive antlers) reaching to eat from a tree branch. This narrative scene reveals one of life's eternal cycles. The forest setting surrounding this trio features detailed blades of grass and tiny leaves budding on trees, capturing nature's very essence.

Barye's lifelike greyhounds were also exquisite, with every muscle evident in these lithe bodies. Two works, titled Greyhound Lying Down and Greyhound Resting, demonstrate the intricate sculpting talent of Barye. Every detail, including an elegant curl on the tail of a greyhound peacefully resting, is meant to show the animal's personality and delight the viewer.

This exhibition should be appreciated for Barye's command of the bronze medium in the Romantic period, and for Charles Allis' dedicated passion for collecting art. The exhibition could be considered small, but it excels at depicting a creative philosophy that remains appreciated today. It's a reminder that nature consistently inspires artists and that both wild and domestic creatures can be works of art in and of themselves.

“Michelangelo of the Menagerie: Barye Bronzes from the Charles Allis Art Collection” continues through Jan. 16.