«Fierce friends» at the Van Gogh Museum

Jacques-Laurent Agasse (1767–1849). The Nubian giraffe. 1827. The Royal Collection

A new interesting exhibition that explores people’s changing view of animals during the period when Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution has opened at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
«Fierce friends», on view through Feb. 5, 2006, is the thematic family exhibition which focuses on the relationship between man and the animals. In addition to individual visitors, this amazing show is especially enjoyable for families with children, featuring many natural history displays and interactive items alongside the art exhibits. In all, the exhibition presents over 200 objects.

The event shows visitors in amusing and interactive ways how people relate to animals. With the rise of zoos and natural history museums in XIX century, knowledge about the animal kingdom and interest in the subject grew enormously. How did artists respond? How is the changing image of the animal world reflected in their work? And how did art influence this changing image? The works on view chart themes such as the advance of science and alienation of people from the wild, and the beginnings of the animal rights movement.

Works by many renowned XVIII and XIX century artists are displayed at the exhibition. Among them paintings by Vincent van Gogh, William Hogarth, James Audubon and William Turner. The changing perspective on animals is illustrated with sculptures by the animal specialist Antoine Barye, and by large paintings of working and domestic animals by Rosa Bonheur and Edwin Landseer, as well as a crab and a bat by Van Gogh. Paintings, sculpture and remarkable scientific illustrations are accompanied by stuffed animals, skeletons and a huge dinosaur fossil. The innovative presentation of the objects encourages visitors to view and compare, to interact, explore and experience.

The show contains plenty of visual jokes about Darwin’s theory, including a sculpture of a chimpanzee gravely regarding a human skull, perhaps pondering whether man really descended from apes. A painting by William Turner called «The Evening of the Deluge» depicts Noah’s Ark and a dinosaur-like lizard that apparently missed the boat. It dates from 1843, before the publication of Darwin’s theory, when naturalists were struggling for an explanation for fossil findings. Other paintings challenge people to consider whether animals have humanlike feelings, such as Edwin Landseer’s 1839 «Dignity and Impudence», which shows a bloodhound and a terrier peering out of a doghouse but puts the viewer at eye level with the dogs.

The Van Gogh museum organized this showcase together with Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Art. «Fierce friends» will move to Pittsburgh in March.

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Published in: on October 11, 2005 at 12:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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