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Fur & Feathers, Elizabeth Harvey-LeeAnimals thematic and incidental in print

Mankind has not changed physically in the last five hundred years, but fashions in dress and hairstyle have altered his visual appearance dramatically in art of different periods. Animals, not affected by such external trappings, have not changed greatly. The cat or dog discovered in an early picture excites by its apparent modernity and bridges the centuries as though timeless.

From cave paintings through the earliest Western civilisations of Mesopotamia, Egypt and Greece, animals are seen to hold special, even religious significance for man. By the 16th century, although animals had lost their deistic importance, they retained symbolic associations. The owl personified night and hence sleep and so appears twice in Brueghel’s allegory of 'Idleness'. A deer introduced into de Jode’s representation of the sense of 'Hearing' alludes to the animals charmed by the lyre of Apollo, god of music, on Mount Parnassus. Jupiter appeared transformed in various animal guises to further his amorous pursuits. St Jerome is identified by the attribute of his attendant lion; St John the Evangelist by an eagle. The Old Testament stories of Adam and Noah allowed the artist full reign in the delight of depicting the animal kingdom. The cat curled up in the corner of Barocci’s 'Annunciation' is an expression of human domesticity and has the added charm of being no doubt the artist’s own cat, as is perhaps the dog in Duplessis-Bertaux’s 'Engraver’s Studio'. In contrast, naturalistic cattle and sheep in pastoral landscapes bathed in golden light were the speciality of some of the Dutch 17th century etchers.

The scientific and encyclopaedic enthusiasm which led to a blossoming of botanic prints in the 18th and 19th centuries did not inspire many equivalent zoological plates, with the notable exception of several fine sets of bird prints. Zoological gardens instead supplied artists with motifs for original printmaking that went beyond simply an accurate record. Romantics like Delacroix drew lions and tigers as similes of wild, untamed nature. The Picturesque movement used animals as apposite ornamental details in landscape.

Fur & Feathers, Elizabeth Harvey-LeeWhereas old master prints tend to introduce animals incidentally, in the modern period they are more often centre-stage. Reflecting changes in patronage and a general move away from established religion and classical education, animals in modern prints are depicted for their own sake or for their decorative qualities. Though perhaps occasionally the artist may also have an eye to a good commercial subject, few do not demonstrate a tenderness in approach which has its own redeeming appeal. Artists as diverse as Steinlen, Austin and Picasso beautifully express the companionship of so-called dumb creation in a way which speaks volumes.

This selection of prints is not just a collection of pretty pictures of cuddly (and some not so cuddly) animals. Several of the prints are by the great masters of printmaking, including Rembrandt and Goya. The English School is well represented with works by Blake, Cotman, Crome, Constable, Palmer, Blampied and Tunnicliffe. The fine group of prints by Robert Austin spans his printmaking activities from student days to maturity, and paralleling his development from etcher to engraver. Equally the theme has encouraged inclusion of some interesting minor artists, rarely encountered. There are some scarcities and a few rarities, and something of interest I hope for everyone.

Published 1990.
48 pages, 142 prints described and illustrated in black and white.

(UK Price: £7, International orders: £10)

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Artists included in the catalogue:

  • Anderson S.
  • Ansdell R.
  • Armfield M.
  • Auerbach A.
  • Austen W.
  • Austin R.S.
  • Bacon P.
  • Barocci F.
  • Beeh R.
  • Beham S.
  • Bella S. della
  • Benson F.W.
  • Berchem N.
  • Berthauld H.
  • Blake W.
  • Blampied E.
  • Bloemaert A.
  • Bloemaert C.
  • Bol H.
  • Bonasone G.
  • Boutet H.
  • Boyvin R.
  • Bresdin R.
  • Brightwell L.R.
  • Brouet A.
  • Brueghel P.
  • Bruyer G.L.
  • Bry T. de
  • Cain C.W.
  • Callot J.
  • Caspar K.
  • Chapin F.
  • Clayton K.M.
  • Constable J.
  • Cotman J.S.
  • Crépin S.
  • Crome J.
  • Daubigny C.F.
  • Daumier H.
  • Delacroix E.
  • Delaune E.
  • Derby W.
  • Detmold E.J.
  • Deutechum J.
  • Duplessis-Bertaux J.
  • Eberhardt M.
  • Flamen A.
  • Födransberg A. von
  • Fridell A.
  • Fyt J.
  • Gardier R. du
  • Gaul A.
  • Gawthorne H.G.
  • Gelin L.
  • Ghisi A.
  • Gill E.
  • Goeneutte N.
  • Goltzius H.
  • Goya F.
  • Grant G.
  • Greiner O.
  • Grossman R.
  • Hagemanns M
  • Hartley A.
  • Henderson E.M.
  • Heyden P. van de
  • Jode P. de
  • Karacz I.
  • Lambert L.E.
  • Lambert T.H.
  • La Touche G.
  • Leighton C.
  • Le Prince J.B.
  • Lucas van Leyden
  • Lucas D.
  • MacLaughlan D.S.
  • Maillol A.
  • Matham J.
  • Maurin C.
  • McEntee D.
  • Menpes M.
  • Meyer H.
  • Muyden E. van
  • Nash J.
  • Nicholson W.
  • Osborne M.
  • Palmer S.
  • Picasso P.
  • Platt J.E.
  • Plückebaum M.
  • Pott C.M.
  • Ranft R.
  • Rembrandt
  • Roux O.
  • Saenredam J.
  • Schiamossi R.
  • Schrimpf G.
  • Seewald R.
  • Shannon C.H.
  • Slevogt M.
  • Steinlen T.A.
  • Stiles S.
  • Stoop D.
  • Thomson L.
  • Tunnicliffe C.F.
  • Underwood L.
  • Villon J.
  • Ward L.
  • Whistler J.M.
  • Wilkie D.
  • Wilson S.R.
  • Woollard D.E.C.
  • Wright J.

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