11-18-13 — Dear Helaine and Joe:
This bronze statue of two pheasants is signed "A. Cain." It was my grandmother's who worked at a manor house in St. Hilaire, Quebec. Sir Colin Campbell, owner of Cunard Steamship Lines, owned the house. This item was used as a centerpiece during hunting season. The manor house eventually became the famous Manor Rouville-Campbell hotel. What would this statue be worth? It is 18 inches long by 12 inches high.
K. B., Moncton, NB, Canada
Dear K. B.:
The man who was responsible for making this piece was a Frenchman who is often described as an "Animalier." This designation refers to a sculptor or painter known for his or her skills in portraying animals and in naturalistic settings.
The piece in today's question is often termed an "animalier bronze," which means that it is a small scale bronze sculpture that was produced in the 19th century — primarily in France but also in other countries (animalier bronzes, for example, were popular in Japan and were often made there).
The number in an edition could be quite large, and the piece in today's question is well known as a multiple sculpture by Augustus-Nicholas Cain that can be found in varying surface treatment. Some of the more famous makers of animalier bronzes were Antoine-Louis Barye, P. J. Mene, Isidore Bonheur, and yes, Auguste-Nicholas Cain.
Cain was born in Paris in 1822 and studied under Francois Rude, Alexandre Guionnet and Pierre-Jules Mene. Cain married Mene's daughter in 1852, and worked in his father-in-law's foundry where some of the bigger bronzes were cast (some of Cain's sculptures were also cast by Barbedienne).
Cain first exhibited his work at the Paris Salon of 1846. It was an image in wax of a Linnet (a finch-like bird with a slim body and a long tail) defending its nest against a rat. This was later cast in bronze and reshown at the 1855 Salon.
During his career, Cain exhibited 36 models at the Paris Salon and won three prizes. He also won a prize at the Paris Exposition Universalle in 1863 for his representation of a family of tigers.
After 1868, Cain made very few small bronzes, but concentrated on making larger figures for public display. He is celebrated for his pieces that are still located in such places as the Luxembourg Gardens and the Gardens of the Tuileries.
After P. J. Mene's death, Cain took over the foundry and continued casting bronzes, and after Cain's death in 1894, his plaster models and molds were sold to the Susse Freres and Barbedienne foundries, where copies continued to be turned out well into the 20th century.
The piece in today's question features a male pheasant standing proud while the female checks her clutch of eggs in a nest. It should be 20 by 30 by 12 centimeters (about 8 by 12 by 5 inches), which are considerably smaller dimensions than the measurements reported by K. B. This example also has some bent tail feathers and the gold surface coloring is not as popular with collectors as the more natural bronze coloration.
Still, we found this piece in pristine condition and in natural bronze with a retail value of almost $4,000. But on a down note, we could not find a recent auction record of this piece selling for more than $600.
However, if this piece is indeed as large as is reported in the letter, it could be a special model that was made before Cain stopped making small bronzes in 1868 and has an unknown value because of this special circumstance.
(Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson are the authors of "Price It Yourself" (HarperResource, $19.95). Contact them at Treasures in Your Attic, P.O. Box 18350, Knoxville, TN 37928. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.)