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Famous Animals in Art

8 novembre 2016

Pioneers as subjects of Art, the animals have left their mark on many artworks through time. From the Lascaux cave to Jeff Koons, let’s have a look at those beasts that have become famous thanks to  Art.

The animals of Lascaux


Nicknamed "the Sistine Chapel of cave art" the Lascaux Cave is one of the most important caves with Paleolithic features. In the heart of Perigord, this rock gallery added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, hosts almost 18 000 years old paintings! Discovered by chance in 1940 by a group of teenagers, the cave is home to many depictions of animals, including the famous Hall of the Bulls. Aurochs, bisons, goats, horses, deer, cats, a bear or even a reindeer are drawn or carved into the wall with remarkable accuracy. Obviously not inhabited at the time, the cave according to historians was playing the role of sacred and religious sanctuary. Closed to the public due to many conservation errors, several life-size replicas attracted in 30 years nearly 10 million visitors curious to see the most famous animals in the history of art.

Bucephalus, Horse Star


Bucephalus is undoubtedly the most famous horse of the equestrian history. Making an inseparable pair with Alexander the Great, this exceptional companion travels with the conqueror from Europe to Asia in all his expeditions and battles for nearly 20 years. Described as a horse of force and incomparable intelligence, he appears on the prestigious Alexander Mosaic. Priceless work discovered in the excavations of Pompeii in 1831, initially created in Egypt, this gigantic mosaic floor (18 sqm) represents the battle between Alexander the Great and Darius III, king of Persia. Damaged since moved, the work is today exhibited in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli and we can still distinguish the famous Bucephalus straddled by his master. If the sources differ on the reason of the horse’s death, Alexander made him a god and created the city of Alexandria Bucephalous where his tomb is, which is today the current Phalia in Pakistan. Besides this mosaic, Bucephalus then appeared on many sculptures, including the sarcophagus of his rider, many engravings or paintings and even a lithograph signed by Salvador Dalí.

Two Hunting Dogs Tied to a Tree Stump 


Made in 1548 for the Count Zantani, patrician of Venice, this painting is the first animal portrait of the history of Western painting. Achieved in a very tight framing typical of the mannerist style, the artist Jacopo Bassano depicts in nature his own dogs, two hounds, often painted in his sacred works of the mid-century. By portraying his own dogs, quite uncommon practice at the time, Jacopo Bassano invented the genre of animal painting, while paying tribute to the chiaroscuro, very fashionable at the time.

The Dürer's Rhinoceros


Not a rhinoceros has marked the history of art as the one by Albrecht Dürer. Based in Nuremberg, Germany, this complete artist, mathematician, writer and Renaissance painter, has never seen with his own eyes the animal he designed. Informed by a descriptive letter of Valentin Fernand, a German printer, of the presence of a rhinoceros on the banks of Lisbon in 1515, he then began a pen sketches which later becomes a woodcut. His model, although fairly close to reality, is actually a chimera: he adds on the neck of the animal a little narwhal tooth, he draws the rhino skin as plates of carapace of a crustacean interpreter, the skin of his legs like  a reptile scales and adds an elephant's tail. The engraving by Dürer was so successful in Europe that nearly 5,000 prints of this image were sold during his lifetime. The influence of the work by Dürer cross the ages and fascinates many artists until the twentieth century. David Kandel for Cosmographia (1544) the sculpture Cosmic Rhinoceros by Salvador Dalí or the tapestries from Kronborg Castle and sculptures in the grotto of the Villa di Castello park in Florence, the rhino Dürer still continues to arouse a fascination.

The White Horse by Gauguin


The work Le Cheval Blanc performed in 1898 by Paul Gauguin in Tahiti was sponsored by a pharmacist. He refused the canvas, shocked by chromatic attempts of a horse painted ... in green. In reality, the work does not represent a real scene but an imaginary, synthetic vision of a Tahitian landscape where a white horse sees his fur dyed in green because of the surrounding vegetation. A true icon that prefigures all chromatic audacity of the twentieth century, the White Horse by Gauguin is one of the most famous paintings in history.

L'Ours blanc by Pompon


Practitioner of Auguste Rodin, the sculptor Francois Pompon has enjoyed success at the age of 67. Son of a cabinetmaker, he learned the basics of sculpture in a funeral business in Dijon. After several years of evening classes at the School of Fine Arts and the National School of Decorative Arts, he met the animal sculptor Pierre-Louis Rouillard who will become the inspiration of his work that will make him famous later. Genuine nature lover, he puts his work in the service of the animals that he observed in the Jardin des Plantes. Eliminating details, he gives up any realistic rendering and focuses on "the essence of the animal". After a few sculptures experiencing brief popularity as its Dove (1919) that he sold to the Museum of Luxembourg or three plaster animal figures from the Museum of Grenoble, Pompon achieved success through the exposure of its Polar Bear (1922) at the Autumn Salon of French artists. Now exhibited at the Orsay Museum since 1986, the Polar Bear is one of the most famous animal sculptures in the world.

The Balloon Dog by Jeff Koons


The most expensive contemporary artwork in the world, the Balloon Dog by Jeff Koons was sold for almost 52 million Euros at an auction in 2013. This monumental sculpture is however not unique, there are five different versions, conducted between 1990 and 1994, and which only differ by their color: yellow, red, orange, magenta and blue. Jeff Koons makes his early works from 1977 in New York. It was  the flowers and inflatable toys of plastics, which already attract. In a workshop in Chelsea, his works are carried out in close collaboration with more than a hundred assistants. Far from being only master on board in the realization of his works, Koons infuses ideas that are realized by its employees. Dubbed the "Master of Kitsch", he knows an international success thanks to his Balloons Dogs that become the absolute reference for the greatest collectors of the planet. Stainless steel, this monumental sculpture depicts a dog made from a balloon. Iconic, the pink Balloon Dog is now exhibited at the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

But also: Bastet Egyptian ancient sculptures, costumed monkeys by Teniers, the Lady and the Unicorn, the Tiger Devouring a Gavial Crocodile of the Ganges by Barye, animals in formaldehyde by Damien Hirst, or the spider by Louise Bourgeois

Hervé Maury and the animals

He began his working life rather chaotically and carried out various professions before working in metallurgy for 8 years. It was only by chance that he began to paint. On moving house and decorating his apartment, he looked for art based on animals, but finding nothing, he began creating and decorating the walls with his own paintings. His family then discovered his talent and encouraged him to do become an artist. More fabulist than naturist, Hervé endows his animal characters with complexity, transforming the bestiary inherited from the medieval tradition, rock paintings and Far Eastern Art. Initially fascinated by insects, today he also paints giraffes herds, schools of fish or portraits of mice. He begins his works with sand and a palette of pigments on brown paper and linen canvas. Then he refines the work using gouache, Indian ink and sometimes charcoal. As he works he diversifies his materials, even to the point of incorporating ashes or marble.
Hervé enjoys this diversity, which enriches the colours, tones and effects. Throughout the evolution of his work, one constant remains: the natural tones which the artist keeps from the original use of sand. The animals seem to emerge from the earth and are surprised to be being watched.
Hervé finds in these beings all the moods and feelings that he wishes to express and share with humour.