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Treasures: Statue depicts influential image of 19th century

Standing tall and impressive, this bronze by Antonia Mercie is a beautiful work of art.
Standing tall and impressive, this bronze by Antonia Mercie is a beautiful work of art. TNS

Q: I found your name from the Miami Herald and I was wondering if you could tell me anything about a bronze statue that has been in my family for at least 100 years. It is a statue of David and Goliath. It is 37 inches tall from the bottom of the base to the top of the handle of the sword, and it weighs more than 50 pounds. On the top of the base is the signature “A. Mercie.” I would appreciate any information you can provide.

M. G.

A: This is not the typical view of the shepherd boy David slaying the Philistine giant Goliath with his slingshot. Instead, we see an image of a muscular, nearly naked youth who has cut off the head of the giant and is stepping on the head as he sheathes his own sword. This is reminiscent of Donatello’s David, and it is said by some to be one of the most important and influential images of the 19th century.

This is not the typical view of the shepherd boy David slaying the Philistine giant Goliath with his slingshot.

French sculptor and painter Marius Jean Antonin Mercie was born in Toulouse, France, in 1845, and he died in Paris in 1916. He was something of a prodigy, and after studying at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, he won the prestigious Grand Prix de Rome at age 23. His first great success was for David After Battle (or David Apres Le Combat). He modeled the piece in 1872 and won the Medaille d’Or for it at the Paris salon of that year.

Numerous reproductions of this work of art do exist, and we would feel more comfortable with this one if it were signed by the firm that did the casting of the originals — namely, “F. Barbedienne Paris” — and if this example had a stamp reading “A. Collas.” We would need better pictures than we have to be convinced with certainty that this is not an old recast.

We are also a bit troubled by the size, which is a bit shy of the 44 inches that some good originals have. Of course examples can be found in a variety of sizes. Barbedienne’s examples came in five sizes.

The statue was made in the early 20th century or earlier, but is not an original casting of the work by sculptor Marius Jean Antonin Mercie.

The Marcie works Americans are probably most familiar with are the image of Robert E. Lee, which can be found on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginiaa; the Marquis de Lafayette (in collaboration with Alexandre Alguire) in Lafayette Square across from the White House in Washington; and the Francis Scott Key memorial in Baltimore.

In conclusion, do we believe this statue is old? Yes, we feel it is at least early 20th century. But do we think it is an original casting by Barbedienne? To this we answer no. We feel it is more likely to be a later casting — but only an in-person examination can determine that. As for value, an early non-Barbedienne casting should probably have an insurance value in the $3,500 to $6,000 range.

Write to Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917, or email treasures@knology.net. Include a high-resolution, in-focus photo of the subject.

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