Makers & Retailers - Ferdinand Barbedienne

Ferdinand Barbedienne

Ferdinand Barbedienne was born in 1810 in Saint-Martin-de-Fresnay, North-West France. He was the son of a modest farmer but Barbedienne had big aspirations and in his early 20’s he moved to Paris to open a wallpaper business. The business was located at 24 – 26 rue Notre-Dame-des-Victories, Paris. It became very successful and soon Barbedienne had a taste for running his own successful company. A few years into Barbediennes career he met a local engineer named Achille Collas (1795-1859). Collas invented a mechanical process in 1836 for reducing sculptures. This process would allow the Collas to create miniature versions of already world renowned sculptures by improving the original sculptors’ pantograph. Collas filed a patent in 1837 Notes 1,3,4. In 1838 Barbedienne went into partnership with Collas and they founded A. Collas & Barbedienne, a company that originally marketed themselves as a sculpture business specialising in reduced antiquity copies of sculptures using various materials such as alabaster, wood, bronze, ivory and soapstone. Over a period of time, they perfected new chemical methods to patinate the finish of their bronzes and presented a reduction of the Venus de Milo at the National Exhibition of 1839 earning a silver medal. Ferdinand Barbedienne’s number one goal was the democratisation of art. He sought to accomplish this by making financially affordable reproductions of masterpieces. Barbedienne would use ancient masterpieces as his source of inspiration such as the Venus De Milo.

Their first contract by a living artist was made in 1843 when Francois Rude commissioned them to start making his sculptures. The Collas Barbedienne duplication process was perfected in a one-piece copying machine which enabled them to obtain a new silver medal at the National Exhibition of 1844 in Paris however, the company barely survived the French revolution and financial collapse in 1848 which caused many artists and foundries to declare bankruptcy. Barbedienne being the cleaver business man he was actively sought new contracts throughout this period and managed to gain contracts with Auguste Clésinger (Jean-Baptiste), François Rude, David D’Angers and even Antoine Louis Barye amongst many others. To further the company’s success they sent some pictures to the Universal Exhibition of 1851 in London and received a special medal for their Half-Size reproduction of the main door by Lorenzo Ghiberti for the Baptistery of St. John in Florence. Collas went on to win again in 1855 in Paris and received the Grand Medal of Honour.

Collas died in 1859 leaving Barbedienne as the sole owner of the foundry which by that time had grown to employ over 300 workers at 63 Rue de Lancry in Paris. Ferdinand Barbedienne was made the President of the Reunion of Bronze Makers in 1865 which he held until 1885. The outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 and the shortage of raw metals caused him to have to stop making sculptures. Luckily, a contract from the French government to produce 70 cannons kept his foundry open and operating throughout the war. After the war he resumed his casting of sculptures producing approximately 1200 sculptures per year. Barbedienne continued to promote his business seeking new contracts with other artists. Ferdinand Barbedienne reproduced the works of contemporary sculptors such as Carrier-Belleuse, Barye, Émile -Coriolan Guillemin, Emmanuel Frémiet, Pierre-Jules Mêne. He also expanded his business and created many models of bronze furniture and champlevé enamels in collaboration with the enameler Alfred-Paul-Louis Serre (1837-1906) amongst other objects. In 1879, Ferdinand Barbedienne acquired 125 casting models at the estate sale of Antoine-Louis Barye which allowed him to devote an entire catalogue to his works to Barye. Ten years later in 1889 Barbedienne catalogue included 450 subjects available in several sizes created by 45 different sculptors. With half of them coming from successful contemporaries. That same year for the first time ever a reduction of the Venus de Milo was cast in aluminium, this caused production of aluminium in sculptures on industrial scale to exponentially expand. Barbedienne went onto win Gold medal at the 1878 Universal Exhibition and exhibited again in 1889 which added to his large tally of successful exhibitions.

Barbedienne died on March 21, 1892, Paris and he was buried on March 25, 1892. Paris at the Père-Lachaise cemetery. His funerary monument is decorated with his bust made by Henri Chapu, and three allegorical statues by Alfred Boucher. His tomb was inaugurated on November 24, 1894, in the presence of numerous personalities from the artistic world. A speech praising the deceased was delivered by Professor Eugène Guillaume, a sculptor and director of the French Academy in Rome.