The Fremiet group entitled Gorille Enlevant une Femme, translated Gorilla Carrying-off a woman, and commonly referred to locally at The Gorilla, made its spectacular debut at the Salon of 1887. Fremiet’s previous version in 1859 titled Gorilla carrying-off a Negro woman, Gorille enlevant une Negresse was refused by the Salon’s jury. It was made of plaster. Although this predecessor was refused by the jury, it was nevertheless installed in a private gallery and garnered much attention. It was later destroyed in a violent strike by Belgian workers. Fremiet cast only one of this previous Gorilla in bronze. The final, more refined and better balance group of the Gorilla was submitted in plaster to the Salon of 1887 where it won the esteemed prize of Medal of Honor.
This plaster group is now held at the Art Museum of Nantes, France. The Allerton Park bronze Gorilla Carrying-off a woman may be the only casting in bronze executed in this monumental size.
Fremiet signed the front base. Note the serpent climbing ominously beneath the signature. The foundry strike is on the reverse base.
Following the success of the Gorilla at the 1887 Salon, Fremiet offered a large production of the Gorilla. This reduction was produced in an unknown quantity. One such reduced replica was gifted to the Art Museum of Melbourne, Australia, by Fremiet. Fremiet had been commissioned to produce a casting of his monumental Jeanne d’Arc statue for the newly established museum, complete with gold gilting. Unable to procure gold for the massive piece, Fremiet included the reduced Gorilla as compensation for his incomplete work. In the 1980, The Romantics to Rodin tour, Mr. and Mrs. Morris Rosenberg, of Memphis, TN loaned their bronze reduction of Gorilla enlevant une femme.
Fremiet appealed without success to the French government multiple times to commission a bronze cast of the Gorilla group to accompany the Bear installed at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. Fremiet conceived of the Gorilla and Bear to be a complimentary pair examining the same subject of hunter and prey. Fremiet interchanged the Bear and Gorilla in his works. He portrayed the animal combatants locked in struggle with a man or woman. Both bear and gorilla assume man-like positions in combat. The male Gorilla carries off a swooning, female hunter, who struggles and pushes against him. He has been wounded himself, but both will live. As for the bear group, the mother bear has suffered an undoubtedly mortal wound. Her cub hangs lifeless from the belt of a dying male hunter. All three face death. The juxtaposition of the male to female, along with the struggle creates a palpable tension in three dimension.
As the only bronze casting of the Gorilla group, the Allerton Gorilla takes on added significance and value. While both the Bear and Gorilla have significance as notable monumental sized works of art by an accomplished animalier, in the art world scarcity significantly impacts value. By provenance of signature as a lifetime cast of the artist, the value is again significantly increased. The Allerton Bear is the second of two casts. The Gorilla may be the only one. Both are museum worthy works of art, but are on public display in a particularly accessible, if not vulnerable, manner.
Unlike the museum setting, these bronze works can be touched to feel the texture created by Fremiet’s chisel. They can be stroked to feel the smooth coldness of the metal. Your fingertips can explore smooth slopes or hard, defined edges. The intensity of the powerful struggle erupts in such close proximity in the woodland setting.