Monkey Business




A French sculptor makes a political statement in bronze.

Every month I start off this article by writing, "Thank you so much for sending me an image of your ...," but sometimes an item is delivered to our shop for an in-person inspection. This bronze monkey sculpture was recently brought into our shop and the owner was pleasantly surprised to learn its story.

It is a fine and fanciful piece unique to the artist Christopher Frantin (1801-1864). Frantin was a French sculptor known for his depiction of animals. Because his father was a taxidermist, Frantin had first-hand knowledge of understanding the anatomy and form of an animal. Frantin was considered to be one of the most talented sculptors of animals of his time and he won an award in 1851 as "The Finest" at an exhibition in England. His work is in many notable public collections, including the Louvre in Paris. One of his sculptures, Two Eagles Guarding Their Prey, installed in 1863 in Central Park, New York City, claims to be the earliest animal sculpture to be commissioned and still featured in a public park.

Christophe Frantin learned his appreciation for the animal form from his father, but through his formal study of art he took his talent to an even higher level. After studying with artist Theodore Gericault, Frantin's work was greatly impacted. He began adding an impasto technique to his work, giving his animals an impressionistic illusion (which was ahead of its time, being decades before the era of the French Impressionists). Frantin also began creating bears and monkeys sculpted in humanist genres. He depicted them in imaginative ways such as wearing hats, carrying baskets and, in this example, wearing a bonnet and leaning on a basket with a scepter-like mop in hand.

This sculpture is a fine example of Frantin's work and exhibits his signature impressed into the bronze. This sculpture alludes to a political statement about the artist's feelings about 19th-century France. In depicting this seemingly noble monkey dressed in ordinary garb sitting on his "throne" (a basket) with "scepter" (a mop) in hand, Frantin is telling the story of the class struggle in France and the hopes of the middle class.

Your bronze is a fantastic representation of the artist's work. I would value this bronze for replacement value at $5,500.

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