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FERDINAND BARBEDIENNE

Other Occupation:
    Bronze manufacturer
    Furniture manufacturer

Geographical data:
    France

Born:
    January 10, 1810 in St-Martin-de-Fresnay (Calvados)

Died:
    1892 in Paris


Born in 1810 in Saint-Martin-de-Fresnay in Calvados, Barbedienne went to Paris at the age of 13. He was placed as an apprentice with a saddler, and then worked in different wallpaper shops before establishing himself independently on the Rue Notre Dame de Lorette in 1833.

He made the acquaintance of Achille Collas, who had invented a cylinder for the impression of painted canvases and then completed an apparatus intended to mechanically reduce statues. In 1838, the two men entered into partnership and started to manufacture bronzes. His new firm, under the name of Collas & Barbedienne, specialized in antique reproductions and developed new processes for patinations and colored bronzes.

At first they produced reproductions of antiquities, including the Venus de Milo, and then sought out models by living artists. The Maison Barbedienne is best known for its foundry, where many sculptures by Barbedienne himself, as well as those after renowned artists were cast.

Their first casting contract was signed with Rude on March 22, 1843. This brought them international acclaim and by the latter part of the nineteenth century, the firm of Barbedienne became France's leading manufacturer of artistic bronzes. By 1847 he had established a factory for the production of bronzes in Paris, where in addition to sculptures he produced silver and reproduction furniture in a variety of styles.

After enduring grave difficulties turn the revolution of 1848, the firm began to increasingly expand its activities. They worked for a number of renowned sculptors, producing works of notes including Rude's standing pose of Godefroy Cavaignac, the works of Clesinger (for whom they serve as the exclusive founders), works by David d'Angers and many other artists, as well as some personal objects, chandeliers, and fireplace accessories. To Barbedienne's head office was henceforth established at the 30 Boulevard Poissonniere, and his studios at 63 Rue de Lancry.

In 1850 he was commissioned to furnish the main rooms of the Hotel de Ville in Paris. In that same year he was commissioned to furnish the Paris Town Hall for which he was awarded the medaille d'honneur at the Paris Exhibition in 1855. He was directly associated with Napoleon III when he supplied the candelabrum for the newly fitted and furnished apartments in the Louvre. They exhibited at the London Exhibition of 1851 a reduced size reproduction of Ghiberti's principal door for the Baptistery in Florence.

By the time that Collas died in 1859, Barbedienne employed some 300 workers, who produced as many as 1,200 subjects, including the work of Michelangelo, Luca Della Robbia and Antoine-Louis Barye, as well as making busts of historical notables (e.g. Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin). And possessed a specialized field for casting bronze monuments.

From around 1860 to the 1880's Barbedienne was experimenting with champleve and cloisonne enamels to achieve a production technique that would compete with the flood of oriental imports from Japan. There is a champleve enamel and gilt-bronze vase and tripod by Barbedienne in the Victoria & Albert Museum. Barbedienne worked from his own designs as well as those of other leading artists. He was always interested in artistic and technical innovation and experimented with champleve and cloisonne enamels to achieve a production technique that would compete with the flood of oriental imports from Japan (1826-1862) one of which was purchased from the London 1862 exhibition.

After 1860 the absence of Collas left Barbedienne the sole master of the business. In an excerpt from 1866 Barbedienne catalog explained that "the licenses, machines, and models that had belonged to the Societe A. Collas and Barbedienne became the exclusive propriety of the Barbedienne house. The mathematical reductions... continue to the sole direction of M. F. Barbedienne." Barbedienne had chaired the committee of Bronze workers for the Paris exhibition in 1867, where his work was very widely acclaimed.

The success of Barbedienne's editions was considerable, as was his production. Although interrupted by the war of 1870 (when he had to furnish 70 cannons for the Defense Nationale), he had resumed with even greater strength once peace returned. Barbedienne assumed the presidency of the reunion of bronze makers from 1865 to 1885.

In 1886 he was awarded the Jean Goujon Gold Medal by the Société d'Encouragement pour l'Industrie Nationale. After the death of Barye in 1876, Barbedienne bought 125 models by Barye at a sale, and cast in a number of models marked with his initials. He exported a significant portion of his manufacturing, though rumor says all them. When Barbedienne died on March 21, 1892 the number of his workers exceeded 600. He was buried at Pere-Lachaise, and on his tune was placed a sculpted busted itself made by Alfred Boucher.

Gustave Le Blanc, the nephew of Ferdinand Barbedienne had taken as a partner, succeeded him under the name of Le Blanc-Barbedienne. Le Blanc signed a contract with Rodin to ensure the Company's exclusive right to cast "Eternal Printemps" and "Baiser" for 20 years. Furthermore, in 1895 he executed the casting of the first proofs of the Bourgeois de Calais.

Whether busy with small editions or with monumental castings, the company was always very successful. Le Blanc made use of agencies in the United States and Great Britain, and opened a branch in Berlin in 1913. After WWI, he worked notably on some commemorative monuments and made innumerable editions of works by Emmanuel Fremiet, and (from 1929 to 1952) busts by Daumier. LeBlanc's activity finally ended on December 31, 1954.

The Barbedienne Company published a certain number of commercial catalogs in which were listed bronze castings of antique or contemporary works in many dimensions. The selection was considerable, from sculptures of the Parthenon to Michelangelo's Moise, from full and half size versions and details of the baptismal doors in Florence to Bosio's Henry IV, from the Chantuer Florentin by Paul Dubois to Mozart enfant by Barrias, and from busts by David d'Angers, to works by Aizelin, Carrier-Belleuse, Clesinger, and Gardet, not to mention the clocks, lights, decorative furnishings, and "mantelpiece artworks" decorated with enamel and other precious metals/materials. In the catalogs published before 1875 appeared the heading "Depot de la collection Barye".


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