Barbedienne was born in 1810, son to a small farmer from Calvados. Having started his career as wallpaper dealer, Ferdinand set up a studio with Achille Collas in 1839. Collas invented a machine for reproducing smaller scale copies of statues and they launched a busy production, starting with producing replicas of Greek and Roman antique sculptures. Their first contract to make sculptures by a living artist came in 1843 from François Rude, known for his iconic sculpture “La Marseillaise” on the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile in Paris. The Barbedienne Foundry perfected new methods for the colour and patina finishes for their bronzes and worked with many renowned Parisian sculptors such as David D’Angers and Jean-Baptiste Clesinger.
It is worth noting that Ferdinand Barbedienne produced many decorative artefacts including clocks, mirrors and vases. In 1855, he began a fruitful collaboration with the famous designer Louis-Constant Sévin, casting his spectacular Ornamental mirror, now displayed at the Musée D’Orsay. That same year, the foundry was awarded the World’s Fair Medal of Honour. Barbedienne also teamed up with the enameler Alfred Serre, developing a set of “cloisonnés”, enamels that made the headlines at London’s World’s Fair of 1862. Together with Serre, Barbedienne produced the beautifully detailed Renaissance style Monumental Clock, on view at Paris City Hall.
Following Achille’s passing in 1859, Ferdinand became the sole owner of the foundry, which had grown to employ over 300 workers. In recognition of his craftsmanship excellence, Barbedienne was made President of the Reunion of Bronze Makers in 1865, a post he held for 20 years. During the Franco-Prussian war in 1870, he was forced to stop making statues in order to produce cannons. After the war, the foundry returned to casting sculptures, gaining even more significant commissions.
In 1876, Barbedienne acquired 125 casting models from the sale of the late animalier Antoine Louis Barye. He then successfully cast and sold editions of Barye’s animal sculptures, creating an entire catalogue for these pieces. Ferdinand Barbedienne passed away in 1891, mourned by France’s art world and the people who were able to access art thanks to his work.
Gustave Leblanc, Barbedienne’s nephew, took over the running of the foundry, continuing its tradition of excellence and setting up new offices in Germany, Britain and the United States. Leblanc headed the foundry until 1952 and cast models for renowned sculptors Auguste Rodin and Emmanuel Frémiet.