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Oudry—Animal Portraitist

It has been fascinating to see how people respond to the animal "portraits" in Oudry's Painted Menagerie. I deliberately emphasize that the animal paintings in this show are portraits, because they are, in my mind, renderings by a formally trained people-painter of specific animal individuals.

Oudry visited the king's menagerie and sketched these animals in their presence, and some of my favorite objects in the show are the drawings of the female and male leopard, and of the two tigers laying on the ground. They are so specific, and Oudry's genius is transferring this lifelikeness into full-scale oil paintings, such as Male Leopard.
Reclining Tiger / Oudry Dead Leopard / Oudry
Left: Reclining Tiger, about 1740, chalk on paper; Right: Dead Leopard, about 1740, chalk on paper
Both images: Staatliches Museum Schwerin


I first saw the painting of the rhinoceros Clara four years ago, in the paintings conservation studio. Under the skilled and loving hands of the paintings conservators, her image came a very long way toward looking again as it did in 1750.

But it wasn't until she was moved upstairs to the galleries, into a large space, that I was able to see the painting as a portrait, as a representation not just of what she looked like, but "who" she was.
Rhinoceros / Oudry  
Rhinoceros, Jean-Baptiste Oudry, 1749, oil on canvas
Staatliches Museum Schwerin
 

Standing before her, I feel her respond to my presence, not just with her searching, anxious eye, but with her twitching ears, and smelling snout. It is a formal, finished portrait, Oudry was formal portraitist, and so she's standing erect, in a display position, as a prince or duke or king might when having his portrait painted. But there is a profound sense of sentience there, of Clara as a feeling being, as someone who is present. And this of course is the magic of portraiture, and of great painting.


Re: Oudry—Animal Portraitist

Did you have a chance to photograph the restorative process of 'Clara'. It might be interesting to see her transforming from her dilapidated state to her final state... Where was the original painting discovered? Was this painting difficult to procure?

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