Painting the Beast: The Artist’s Fascination with Fauna

Animals have always been revered in human society. Be it for their beauty, their ability to carry out laborious tasks or their capacity to act as a resolute, determined and altogether loyal companion, people have always had a fondness for creatures great, small and covered in hair.

Study of a Fawn

Georges Feldkirchner

Art’s Beginnings

Man has been fascinated with capturing the image of animals for thousands – perhaps hundreds of thousands – of years. The vast majority of discovered prehistoric cave paintings have animals as their core subject; from horses and bison, to bears and reindeer, fauna’s various and eclectic forms have captured the attention of painters ever since man first decided to jot down and preserve that which so completely consumed their thoughts.

Cave paintings – widely regarded as the true birth of art – focused so completely on animals because they were the difference between life and death. An animal could provide food and clothing, but also had to potential to turn from hunted to hunter. The same is true now – see Georges Feldkirchner’s ‘Study of a Lioness’, for example – but the vast majority of us are so far removed from nature that rarely do we see animals in the same way as our forefathers. Artists, however, are just as close to nature’s allures now as they have ever been.

Animals as Body Art

As a species, we humans have an inherent love of animals. We keep pets, we fawn over the specimens kept at zoos, and we tune in in our millions to watch shows like Animal Practice, Vet School and The Supervet. So, given that so many of us are drawn to animals, it is hardly surprising that more and more people are having their favourite creatures inked permanently on their bodies.

However, being adorned with the image of an animal now encompasses more than just being tattooed. Artists – with particular reference to Gesine Marwedel and Guido Daniele – have taken to drawing incredibly detailed representations of animals on models, much to the delight of art fans around the world.

Depicting the Majesty of Nature

Ultimately, people are captivated by the natural world. Though we are now in an age of advanced technology, instant gratification and increased urbanisation, there are few who would fail to be moved by an awe-inspiring sunset, an exquisite rainbow, or the sight of a dolphin leaping from the depths so as to momentarily soar through the air.

Animals represent nature’s most beautiful and, often, bizarre side; they are as mesmerising as they are perplexing, and that is something artists have been compelled to portray for almost the entire span of human history. Visual representation and interpretation of animals has been at art’s heart for thousands of years, and will likely remain so for many thousands of years to come.

About Mark Mitchell

Dealers in 19th-20th Century British and Continental Works of Art
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