Isidore-Jules BONHEUR – An importante plaster sculpture representing a bull

Paris, 1865

Chef-modèle for the cast iron


Dimensions : H : 197 cm / L : 295 cm / D : 86 cm.


This monumental sculpture put on a base depicts a bull on the move in a very realistic way. Standing and walking, its head is up and turned to the left, its tail is also doing a move in the same direction. Isidore Bonheur, known for its realistic sculptures of animals, gives here a remarkable job for the finish of the body. Indeed, we quickly notice the impressive musculature especially for the thigh, the skin wrinkles around the neck and the hair finely chiseled of the tail, the forehead and the ears.


It’s really in the head’s realization that the artist’s talent manifests itself, through the big eyes protected by prominent eyelids and the muzzle’s movement which spreads the nostrils and opens the mouth, all of the bull expressivity lies here. This plaster is the chef-modèle for the cast iron, this also explains the numerous details sculpted by the artist. As they would loose a little bit of their quality after the molding, they need to be the finest possible on the mould. It’s also to facilitate the molding that the base and the tail are separated from the rest.


Page of the Val d’Osne foundry’s catalogue


The bulls face to face on the champ de Mars during the Universal Exhibition of 1878 in Paris
Initially exhibited during the Salon of 1865 in Paris, this plaster was used as a model for one of the two cast iron Bulls created by the French sculptor Isidore Bonheur. They were exhibited on the champ de Mars during the Universal Exhibition of 1878, one is identical to our sculpture, the other one has its head down and charges. These bulls were quite successful as many orders were made at the Val d’Osne foundry after their exhibition. One was made by the Constantinople’s sultan Abdul Aziz, for the Beylerbeyi Palace in Turkey. Unfortunately he died in 1876, before he could have paid for his order, thus the Bulls had to stay at the foundry waiting for another buyer. Today, we can find them in a lot of cities all around the world and especially in South America like in Buenos Aires in Argentina, in Maracay in Venezuela or even in Guatemala. But also in El Puerto de Santa Maria in Spain and Rhode Island in the United States.



No trace of the original Bulls’ move was found, yet it’s very likely that they are today in front of the Cureghem’s slaughterhouse in Anderlecht in Belgium. There is also in Paris a cast iron bull from our plaster in front of the Georges Brassens’ park entrance, which used to be the Vaugirard slaughterhouse. Nevertheless, its pendant is not the bull with its head down and charging exhibited during the Universal exhibition of 1878, but another bull sculpture very similar to our plaster except in the tail position. Researches showed that these bulls were ordered specially for this place after the universal exhibition of 1878.


The bulls in front of the Cureghem’s slaughterhouse in Anderlecht in Belgium



The bulls in front of the George Brassens park entrance in Paris

Sculptor and painter born in Bordeaux in 1827, Isidore Jules Bonheur (1827-1901) is the third child of the painter Raymond Bonheur (1796 – 1849) and the brother of the painter Rosa Bonheur. It’s thanks to this two people that Isidore Bonheur received a first artistic apprenticeship before getting to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1849. He started by practicing painting before choosing to sculpt animals. A lot of his works of art are now in museums, in particularly in Bordeaux, Warsaw in Poland or even in the United-States, but it’s mainly in the Orsay museum in Paris that we can find the major part of his sculptures. All along his artistic career he obtained a lot of rewards, like a medal for the exhibition of our plaster during the Salon of 1865.


Our sculpture is a concrete example for the animal sculpture taste developed in Europe all along the 19th century. It’s especially during the Salon of 1831, where Antoine-Louis Barye was noticed by the presentation of his sculpture untitled Tiger eating a snake, that the vogue increased. This artist was the first sculptor to choose to abandon the mythological representation for a more realistic one. Since that, the animal sculpture, whereas it’s monumental or of a small size, knows a huge success and was very quickly adopted by the Romantic movement looking for expressivity. At the end of the 19th century, with the development of the taste for realism, to which Isidore Bonheur’s Bulls are part of, the animal sculpture was still in vogue.


We can compare our bull to others monumental sculptures of animals and in particularly the ones exhibited during the Universal Exhibition of 1878 around the Trocadero fountain. Three of them has been moved and are now in front of the Orsay museum in Paris, the Horse with the spike strip by Pierre Rouilalrd, the Rhinoceros by Alfred Jacquemart and the Young trapped elephant by Emmanuel Fremiet. The fourth one, the Bull by Auguste Cain, often confused with Isidore Bonheur’s ones, is today exhibited in Nîmes in France.


The Trocadero palace in 1878 precedes by the four animal sculptures.