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The Arts Voyager, 3-5: Menagerie (Updated 3/5 with new images & info)
From the Dordogne to Delacroix & Degas, Calder & Hockney: 15,000 years of Artists on Animals

Top: The bison of the Font de Gaume cave (Les Eyzies de Tayac, Dordogne). Circa 12,000 - 17,000 BC. ©CMN - Les Eyzies. Bottom: Jacob Hoefnagel (1573- ca.1632), "Orpheus Charming the Animals," 1613. Watercolor and bodycolor, bordered in gold, on vellum. The Morgan Library & Museum, New York. Purchased on the Sunny Crawford von Bulow Fund, 1978, Photography for bottom image: Graham S. Haber, 2011.


By Paul Ben-Itzak
Text copyright 2012 Paul Ben-Itzak

But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee. -- Job 12:7

LES-EYZIES-DE-TAYAC (Dordogne), France -- Artists have been depicting animals since art began, and the adventurous arts voyager can still survey the oeuvre from 12,000 BC to the present. Begin in Les Eyzies, in the verdant Dordogne department of southwest France also known for foie gras and truffles, with the polychrome paintings of bisons in the Font de Gaume cave. Les Eyzies is known as the capital of pre-history because it's also where the first remains of Cro-Magnon man were discovered, dating from about 30,000 years ago, in a shelter burrowed in a limestone cliff. (The limestone cliffs that dominate the valley of the Vezere and the village are still dotted with pre-historic caves today.) The paintings of Font De Gaume date from the Magdalenian period, the last of the Paleolithic superior era, or 12,000 to 17,000 years BC. Artistic conditions were also primitive. Judging by the scope of the paintings, their authors must have had to lay on their backs to execute them. (For background on the history of the region and artifacts, make sure to stop at the new welcome center of the Pole International de la Prehistoire, just up the road from Font de Gaume heading towards the village, and the Musee National de la Prehistoire.) Continue your survey at New York's Morgan Library and Museum, whose new exhibition in its ornate Madison Avenue mansion "In the Company of Animals," running through May 20, begins about 13,200 years after the Paleolithic superior era ended and continues through the 17th century with Rembrandt ("Fourquarters of an Elephant"), the 19th with a lion by Delacroix and a racing horse by Degas, among others, and right up into the 20th century with original illustrations of Babar and Snoopy by Jean de Brunhoff and Charles Schulz respectively, Aesopian animals by Alexander Calder, and David Hockney's 1993 sketches of his pet pooches.


Jean de Brunhoff (1899-1937), "Dummy with illustration for page nine of Histoire de Babar, le petit elephant." Ink and watercolor drawing with handwritten text on paper. The Morgan Library & Museum, New York. Gift of Laurent, Mathieu, and Thierry de Brunhoff, and purchased with the assistance of the Florence Gould Foundation and the Acquisitions Fund, Fellows Endowment Fund, Gordon N. Ray Fund, and the Heineman Fund, 2004.


Abstract animal art is not ignored. The Morgan exhibition includes a drawing by Jackson Pollock, "Untitled (Abstract Ram)," from 1944, a time when the artist incorporated Jungian theories of the unconscious and imagery of the American southwest into his work. Also among the 80 works on display, all taken from the Morgan's collection, are a first edition of T.S. Eliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats," with a dust-jacket illustrated by the author. Hockney writes of his dachshunds, Boodgie and Stanley, "These two dear little creatures are my friends. I notice the shapes they make together, their sadness and their delight." To be ready to draw them at any moment, he added, "I had to leave large sheets of paper all over the house and studio to catch them sitting or sleeping without disturbance."


Claude Debussy (1862-1918), "La boite a joujoux: ballet pour enfants. Illustrations by Andre Helle. Paris: Durand, ca. 1913. The Morgan Library & Museum, New York James Fuld Music Collection. Photography: Graham S. Haber, 2011.


Hockney's aren't the only animals who don't come from the realm of fantasy. A 19th-century drawing by Nicolas Huet depicts an unusual pet, a giraffe called Zarafa, with her Sudanese caretaker, Atir. The giraffe was a political gift from Muhammed Ali, the Ottoman Viceroy of Egypt, to Charles X of France in an attempt to convince his Highness not to interfere in the war between the Ottoman Empire and the Greeks. After a two-year journey from Sudan to Paris (which included two boat rides and a 550- mile walk from Marseilles to Paris; this was before the TGV cut the trip down to three hours), Zarafa lived with Atir in the Jardin des Plantes in the city's Latin Quarter for 18 years, always sleeping within scratching reach of her head. Plus ca change: 200 years later, the Jardin des Plantes is still home to unusual companions, with more than a dozen kangaroos sharing a pen and a pond with a pair of black swans and the occasional squatting ravens. ("The Raven," by the way, is also in evidence at the Morgan, with the exhibition featuring a letter in which Edgar Allen Poe sends a last-minute revision of the 10th and 11th stanzas of his most famous poem to John Augustus Shea of the New York Daily Tribune, where the poem appeared the next day. This revision is the earliest surviving portion of "The Raven" in the poet's hand. Poe's initial choice for his "bird of ill-omen" representing "Mournful and Never-Ending Remembrance," by the way, was a parrot.)


Left: Nicolas Huet (1770-1828), "Study of the Giraffe Given to Charles X by the Viceroy of Egypt," ca. 1827. Watercolor and some gouache, over traces of black chalk, on paper. The Morgan Library & Museum, New York. Purchased on the Sunny Crawford von Bulow Fund, 1978. Photography: Graham S. Haber, 2011. Right: Edgar Degas (1834-1917), "Race Horse." Charcoal on light brown paper. The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, Thaw Collection. Photography: Graham S. Haber, 2011.


Ferdinand-Eugene-Victor Delacroix (1798-1863), "Royal Tiger." Pen and brown ink and watercolor, over pencil, on paper. The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, Thaw Collection. Photography: Graham S. Haber, 2011.


Left: John James Audubon (1785-1851), "Gray Rabbit: Old male, female, and young." Watercolor and graphite, with gouache on cream wove paper. The Morgan Library & Museum, New York. Photography: Graham S. Haber, 2011. Right: David Hockney (1937 - ), "Boodhie and Stanley," 1993. Crayon on paper, 22 1/2 x 30 1/4 inches. The Morgan Library & Museum, New York. Thaw Collection. ©David Hockney.


Fables of Aesop according to Sir Roger L'Estrange, with 50 drawings by Alexander Calder. Paris: Harrison of Paris; New York: Minton, Balch and Company, 1931. The Morgan Library & Museum, New York. Gift of Mrs. L.B. Wescott, 1976. ©2012 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photography: Graham S. Haber, 2011.


J.J. Grandville (1803-1847), "Les metamorphoses du jour." Paris: Chez Bulla, rue St. Jacques, no. 38 et chez Martinet, rue du Coq, 1829. The Morgan Library & Museum, New York. Bequest of Gordon N. Ray, 1987. Photography: Graham S. Haber, 2011.


The bison of the Font de Gaume cave (Les Eyzies de Tayac, Dordogne). Circa 12,000 - 17,000 BC. ©CMN - Les Eyzies.


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