Titled ‘Gloria Victis’, this large patinated bronze sculpture depicts the allegorical figure of Fame carrying a fallen soldier in her arms. Fame is depicted as a winged figure, wearing a loosely draped gown which billows out around her. The soldier is represented nude with his eyes closed and his head on his right shoulder. His arms are outstretched in a Christ-like pose and he holds a broken sword in his right hand, symbolising defeat. The sculpture is titled 'Gloria Victis' on its base, and signed 'A Mercie' and 'F. Barbedienne. / Paris.'
The work was designed by Marius-Jean-Antonin Mercié, a leading sculptor of the 19th Century. Mercié intended to depict Fame with a triumphant soldier to commemorate the Franco-Prussian War (July 1870-May 1871). However, after France’s surrender in 1871, Mercié changed the solider from victorious to defeated. ‘Gloria Victis’ became an iconic war memorial which was reproduced and placed in many French towns, including Niort, Deux-Sèvres, Agen, and Bordeaux.
Marius-Jean-Antonin Mercié was an important sculptor who was active in France in the late 19th Century. Mercié was a student at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and in 1868 he won the Prix de Rome, enabling him to study at the Académie de France in Rome. He won several awards in his lifetime, including the cross of the Légion d'honneur, the Medal of Honor at the Paris Salon of 1874—for the ‘Gloria Victis’ sculpture—and the Grand Prix at Paris Exposition Universelle in 1878. Mercié was made a professor of the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1900, and in 1913 he became the President of the Société des Artistes Français.
Mercié’s ‘Gloria Victis’ was reproduced on different sizes by Ferdinand Barbedienne, an important French 19th-Century metalworker and manufacturer. Barbedienne was well-known for his bronze works which were cast to an exceptionally high-quality. He won multiple medals for his work, including the prestigious Grande Médaille d'Honneur at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1855.