Antoine-Louis Barye was initially trained in goldsmithing, his father's occupation. After serving in Napoleon's army, he studied sculpture and painting and entered the École des Beaux-Arts in 1818. Like the painters Théodore Géricault and Eugène Delacroix, with whom he studied the animals at the Paris zoo, Barye exemplified the Romantic predilection for exotic and violent subjects; many of his bronzes depict wild beasts in combat.
At the Salon of 1831, he won a medal for Tiger Devouring a Gavail, a crocodile-like creature.This large-scale sculpture's subject was a radical choice, departing from the Académie's strict hierarchy, which ranked the human figure as art's noblest subject and animals as one of the lowliest. With the success of this work, Barye began working independently as a sculptor and painter. He continued submitting his animal bronzes to the Salons, where they competed on equal terms with sculptures of more traditional human subjects.
About 1845 Barye established a foundry to produce small bronzes for France's growing middle class. He was appointed keeper of plaster casts at the Louvre and master of zoological drawing at the Musée National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris. Finally elected to the Académie in 1868, Barye inspired a school of sculptors known as the animaliers, or animal artists.