A native of Metz, where he was born in 1801, Fratin first apprenticed with his father, a taxidermist, until about 1821, after which he shifted to a career in sculpture. He studied in his home city with sculptor Charles Augustin Pioche (1762-1839), then went to Paris and worked in the studio of Théodore Gericault, the only master he listed in the entries for his works in the Salon catalogues of the 1860s, where that information was required. He made his debut with several wax models, of a thoroughbred horse and several dogs, in the Salon of 1831, ushering in with another debutant, Antoine-Louis Barye, the golden age of animalier sculpture that year.
Though never as celebrated as Barye, Fratin enjoyed greater professional and commercial success than many of his fellow animalier sculptors during the nineteenth century. He received several commissions for public sculpture in Paris and in the United States; a bronze group of two eagles and their prey is in Central Park in New York. The government also commissioned small works that were deposited throughout France in provincial museums, including Metz.
Fratin gained an international reputation during his lifetime with small-scale serial work for the market, producing examples in bronze, terracotta, plaster, and even faience. Functional objects (platters and cane heads, for example) were produced as well as "pure" sculpture. The English market in particular favored Fratin's work. The sculptor commissioned established founders to execute the serial versions of his models. In the 1830s Susse Frères produced plasters for him; E. Quesnel, Braux, Richard, Eck, and Durand, and Alfred Daubrée de Nancy cast many of his small bronzes. Fratin's public success and critical reputation owed much to his sales at public auction, a means of direct marketing that he used more frequently than most of his colleagues. Beginning in 1849, Fratin held at least one sale in Paris almost every year that was reviewed in the art journals. Susse Frères and Thiébaut et Fils offered bronzes of his work, cast from models bought at the yearly sales during the artist's lifetime (he died in 1864) and subsequent estate sales, until well into the late nineteenth century.
In general, his subject matter involves a wide range of domestic and wild mammals. Human themes, modern, mythological, or historical, are documented but are rarely seen today. Fratin was celebrated for his lively anthropomorphic narrative subjects using animals. Called a modern "La Fontaine" in one of his own sales catalogues, Fratin was seen to have achieved a modern anti-heroic art in this popular form through its appeal to middle-class interests, its subtle expression, vigorous modeling, and high-quality foundrywork.
[This is the artist's biography published, or to be published, in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Lami, Stanislas. Dictionnaire des sculpteurs de l'école française au dix-neuvième siècle. 4 vols. Paris, 1914-1921: 2:403-405.
Bougon, Jacqueline J.A. Le Sculpteur animalier Christophe Fratin (Metz) 1801-1864 (Le Raincy). Le Raincy, 1983.
Hachet, Jean-Charles. Les Bronze animaliers. De l'antiquité à nos jours. Paris, 1986: 98-99.
Kjellberg, Pierre. Les Bronzes du XIXe siècle. Paris, 1987: 322-326.
Butler, Ruth, and Suzanne Glover Lindsay, with Alison Luchs, Douglas Lewis, Cynthia J. Mills, and Jeffrey Weidman. European Sculpture of the Nineteenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2000: 230.