Van Gogh museum on animals and art


From the Google cache.

Van Gogh museum on animals and art

Date: 10/12/05 at 9:28PM

Mood: Looking Playing: The birds and the bees, by Jewel Akens

Today, I went to the Vincent van Gogh museum, to see the exhibition Fierce Friends there.

Its subject is the relationship between art and animals from about 1750 to about 1900.

On my way to the railway station, I noted about 25 starlings on the reconstructed windmill of Rembrandt’s father.

Maybe the memory of the sails turning in the weekend was distant enough by now for some, though not yet all, starlings to return.

In the Haarlemmermeer region, a great cormorant flew along the train.
Emperor penguins
Penguins’ toilets and Indian antelopes

In the Vincent van Gogh museum, just past the exhibition‘s entrance, was a special toilets’ logo.

It had three icons: for a man; a woman; and an emperor penguin.

However, behind the toilets’ door, it proved impossible to find an emperor penguins’ toilet.

The scientific name for emperor penguin is Aptenodytes forsteri.

Forsteri is from the father and son naturalists Forster, who traveled with British explorer Captain Cook in the eighteenth century.

A painting at the exhibition depicts them with New Zealand birds.

The poster of the exhibition depicts two animals: a giraffe and a blackbuck antelope.

The blackbuck antelope is from a picture, also at the exhibition, by Jean-Bapiste Oudry from 1739.

Though the antelope itself is depicted well (maybe Oudry saw it in the French royal menagerie of King Louis XV), the rest of the painting, being an Alps like mountainscape, supposedly the antelope’s natural habitat, is completely wrong.

The blackbuck antelope lives in India on steppe like plains.

However, in the early eighteenth century, European artists did not know how most non European animals looked; what their natural environment was; what their habits were; etc.

There were no works by non European (and non United States) artists at the exhibition.

There were china ceramics of ptarmigans in both summer and winter plumage. However, they were made in Chelsea, England; not China; about 1750.

Changes in society and in perceptions on animals

The European lack of knowledge about non-European animals began to change in the course of the eighteenth century: the age of enlightenment philosophies, industrial revolution in Britain, political revolutions in the USA and France.

Exploration including scientists, like Captain Cook’s, brought more non European animals and knowledge about them to Europe.

Linnaeus started systematic classification of animals.

Also, at first dim notions about evolution of animal life, later, in the nineteenth century, put forward more strongly by Charles Darwin, began to raise their heads.

Usually, the Van Gogh museum limits itself to the nineteenth century (as Edwin Becker of the museum said in a lecture).

In the case of this exhibition they had to include the eighteenth century, crucial in these issues, as well.

The industrial revolution included extension of mining.

This meant that chances of finding fossils of dinosaurs, mammoths, or other mainly extinct animals, increased greatly.
Turner, The evening of the deluge
Previously, these had been seen as remains of mythical giants or dragons; or of the Biblical deluge.

Now, dinosaurs and other extinct animals proved difficult to integrate into that picture.

As seen in William Turner’s The Evening of the Deluge.

On its right, the painting depicts a big reptile, described at the exhibition as an ichthyosaur, which did not fit into Noah’s ark of Biblical tradition.

Congo and Picasso and Van Gogh

In the 1950s, biologist Desmond Morris induced chimpanzee Congo to do paintings, some of which are at the exhibition.

Pablo Picasso bought one of Congo’s paintings.

The exhibition also included ladies’ hats of about 1900.

In one case, a complete pheasant’s body on top of the hat.

In another case, a bird of paradise’s body.

In those days, also bird species like common tern and grey heron were almost hunted to extinction for their feathers.

Protective measures just in time allowed these birds to survive in The Netherlands and other countries.

Another part of the exhibition were Vincent van Gogh’s works on animals.

Van Gogh, Kingfisher

They included a painting of a kingfisher; with the stuffed kingfisher he used for painting, as fast moving kingfishers are not easy to paint.

Another work depicts a flying fox.

Flying fox, by Vincent van Gogh

Two 1889 works depict a crab and a great peacock moth.

Van Gogh, Great peacock mothOne of Van Gogh’s last paintings, maybe his last, is from 1890, just before he died.

It depicts a flock of crows, flying over a field.

I think these crows may be more precisely rooks, which often fly in flocks.

Van Gogh himself, when in England, referred to rooks, so he knew they were a separate species.

Van Gogh made more works related to animals, not shown at this exhibition.

They include a painting of the nests of birds; including wrens.

And a still life with shrimps and mussels.

These two are in the permanent exhibition of the Van Gogh museum.

In 1886, Van Gogh also painted herring and mackerel.

The last part of the exhibition, at the upper story, is about underwater life and art.

Until about 1850 it was not possible to make an aquarium which did not leak.

When that became possible, it greatly influenced also artists’ views on fish.

Part of the exhibition is an expensive goldfish bowl of that time.

Goldfish in 1885, according to an advertisement then by Leiden aquarium business Vlieland which still exists in 2007, cost 15 Dutch cents.

Expensive then, as they were still not as usual as today.

Picture gallery of the exhibition here.

Edward Hicks’ painting(s) The Peacable Kingdom: here.

As I walked back to the railway station, I saw many football fans: mostly Dutch in orange shirts, and less Macedonian in red shirts, for tonight’s The Netherlands-Macedonia match.

The Netherlands had already qualified for the final rounds in Germany in 2006.

Even if they would lose 100 to 0 against Macedonia, that would not change.

The result was zero vs. zero. So no change either.

11 thoughts on “Van Gogh museum on animals and art

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