Representing a lioness attacking a cavalier, the present sheet is related to the hunting scenes of the surtout de table (table centre-piece) commissioned in 1834 by the duke of Orléans to Antoine-Louis Barye, and it is a lovely example of Barye’s watercolor production and fascination for fierce beasts. One of the sculptures of the Orléans ensemble, Chasse au lion (Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore), figuring two horsemen fighting a lion and a lioness with a water buffalo, was the first example of Barye’s lion hunts. Two other compositions, Deux cavaliers arabes tuant un lion (1838) and Cavalier arabe tuant un lion (1860), both at the Walters Art Gallery, were also edited in bronzes during his career.
In these pieces, the lions are usually males and already crushed to the ground, at the point of the hunters’ spears, whereas in the present watercolor, the lioness is in a more powerful position, jumping on the horseman. The outcome of this dramatic encounter, depicted in a deserted landscape, is filed with uncertainty. Unarmed, the man seems quite powerless against the beast. The horse’s standpoint could be linked to another watercolor, Cheval piaffant dans un paysage, called Le cheval échappé (Musée du Louvre, Paris), representing a grey horse in the same position. Joseph Baillio, in the exhibition The Wild Kingdom of Antoine-Louis Barye, also linked the present sheet to a study drawing, now at the Snite Museum of Art in Notre-Dame1.
The artist Jean Gigoux, who knew Barye, reported in his book Causeries sur les artistes de mon temps (1885), that Barye practiced watercolor while waiting for his assistants or his models in a corner of the studio: “Dans un coin de son atelier, pour remplir les moments d’attente des rendez-vous de ses modèles ou de ses praticiens, il avait toujours quelque aquarelle en train, un lion ou une gazelle quelconque. Oui, c’est dans ses moments perdus qu’il fit ces belles aquarelles que nous connaissons tous”2.
Charles Delagrave and Fabius Frères, previous owners of the present sheet, have been the best collectors of Barye at their time.