Born in Paris in 1821, Auguste-Nicolas Cain apprenticed initially with his father, a butcher. His shift to sculpture began with formal training under Alexandre Guionnet (active 1831-1853), an ornamental sculptor, then with François Rude (1784-1855) for an undetermined period before 1852. During the 1840s Cain provided models for the eminent Parisian jewelers Fannière Frères and, particularly, Frédéric-Jules Rudolphi (active 1841-c. 1867), for whom he designed decoration for poignards, paperweights, and walking sticks. He made his Salon debut in 1846 as an animalier with the small wax group, Warblers Defending Their Nest against a Dormouse (location unknown). His subsequent submissions to the Salon were small-scale bronzes that he cast in the foundry of animalier Pierre-Jules Mêne (1810-1879). Cain's association with the well-established Mêne proved of long and fruitful duration. He married Mêne's daughter in 1852 and edited his own small-scale work in his father-in-law's studio-foundry, which he took over, together with the family residence, upon Mêne's death in 1879. Mêne's widespread connections quickly brought Cain several important government commissions, beginning with a Brown Vulture Devouring a Serpent, the plaster model for which was commissioned by the Minister of the Interior in 1849, cast in bronze the following year by the founder Gonon, who then cast it in quadruplicate as supports for a colossal porphyry table for the Musée des Antiquités Egyptiennes at the Louvre.
Cain's career as a monumental sculptor continued into and beyond the Second Empire, bringing him commissions for, among other things, reliefs to decorate an imperial kennel (1860-1863); a bronze Wild Vulture on the Head of a Sphinx, originally placed in the Jardin des Plantes (1864, now in a public square, Thann, France); and a Rhinoceros Attacked by Tigers for the Jardin des Tuileries (1874-1882). Beginning in the 1860s, he executed a notable series of monumental lions and tigers as garden and architectural decoration: a Family of Tigers shown in plaster in the Paris Universal Exposition of 1867 and commissioned in bronze that year for Central Park, New York (now Central Park Zoo); and a Lioness executed in quadruplicate after 1869 for entrances on the cour du Carrousel side of the Louvre.
Cain continued to exhibit regularly in the Salon until the year of his death, 1894. In 1869 he was awarded the Légion d'honneur and was named officer of that prestigious organization in 1882.Like Antoine-Louis Barye before him, Cain stands out in his generation for success as both a monumental sculptor and as founder of his own serial bronzes. Cain's oeuvre reflects an equal concern for "high," industrial, and decorative art; the artist sought to be represented in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs as well as in the Musée du Luxembourg, both in Paris. His prolific small-scale work displays a stylistic variety that is absent from the large-scale public projects, a difference that suggests a respect for artistic modes--high public work versus informal private objects. Cain's monumental work aligns him closely with Barye in the majestic grandeur that accompanies its naturalism, whether the subjects are in repose or dramatically active. His prestigious commissions, variousness and productivity, and the sheer quality of Cain's oeuvre enhanced the status of animalier work. Even with its acknowledged prominence by the 1850s, it remained a segregated and subordinate class within the professional hierarchy of sculptors.
[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: 1(1914):233-238.
Lindsay, Suzanne G. "Auguste-Nicolas Cain." In The Second Empire. Art in France under Napoleon III. Exh. cat. Philadelphia Museum of Art; Detroit Institute of Arts; Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris. Philadelphia, 1978: 211.
Hachet, Jean-Charles. Les Bronzes animaliers. De l'antiquité à nos jours. Paris, 1986: 92-97.
Kjellberg, Pierre. Les Bronzes du XIXe siècle. Paris, 1987: 164-168.
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: 52.