From the Middle Ages to present day, animals have captured the attention of painters, sculptors and draftsmen around the world. Used to evoke the mundane and the exotic, the friend and the foe, animal subjects have often come to represent universal human qualities. Other times, artists have allowed the animal’s savage simplicity shine through without bogging it down with man-made characterizations. The exhibition Animal Beauty, currently at the Grand Palais, brings every kind of animal depiction to light and showcases such renowned artists as Dürer, Goya and Pompon. Guests of the Hotel Elysées Regencia will be able to enjoy this collection until July 16, 2012.
A principal theme of the exhibit is the ‘animal as spectacle.’ The shining example of such work is a group of several paintings and sketches of Clara, a rhinoceros who was taken on tour from Rotterdam to London to Berlin to Venice. Her melancholy journey lasted 20 years and was chronicled by artists who themselves witnessed the gleam of her despairing eyes. Within the same theme, the exhibit also includes paintings and a charming wooden model of Zarafa, a giraffe belonging to Charles X. Zarafa became a celebrity in the early 19th century when he journeyed—by hoof—from the city of Marseille all the way up to Paris.
More cheerful perhaps is the exhibit’s demonstration of the growing influence of animals in contemporary art. In these works, the animal is not imprisoned and admired for its exoticism; instead, the animal takes on virtues comparable to those of the human species. Visitors will see tried and true portrayals of the dog as brave and loyal or the cat as sly and nonchalant—characteristics that reemerge time after time in artistic works. The collection, which is organized by theme rather than time period, blends all eras together, allowing visitors to recognize that many of our perceptions have remained the same over several centuries.