Beasts and monsters

26 10 2007

The Wallace Collection is a private art gallery in central London, home to one of the finest art collections in Europe. ‘Deaf Visions’ are pioneering activities led by deaf artists and art historians with an interpreter on hand for hearing activities. I attended an event called ‘Beasts and Monsters’, about the use of real-life animals in art.

We met up in a basement meeting room and gathered for a chat with friends over wine and nibbles. We were taken up to the first floor and then the ground floor, to see six paintings, with a signed commentary by Serena Cant, who was an excellent guide.

The Lion in Love (Camille Roqueplan, 1836) was a wonderful painting showing a lion in love with a girl who was cutting his nails. The way the light fell on her face, covering half of it in shadow, showed the deceit with which she performed this task. She was observed by a crowd of villagers who intended to kill the lion once his claws had been cut and he was defenceless. This painting was intended to show what happens when people fall madly in love, they become blind to reality.

The Dog of the Regiment Wounded and The Wounded Trumpeter (Horace Vernet, 1819) were a pair of paintings which showed the shock and grief that people went through, the suffering they endured through the Napoleonic Wars. The dog showed the importance of morale he brought to the troops, as did the horse. The agony and despair of the horse reflected the feelings of the people.

Joachim van Aras and his Family (Bartholomeus van der Helst, 1654) is a portrait of a wealthy family. Their wealth is shown in the richness of the fabric used to make the clothing and the animals surrounding the family – hunting dogs which only wealthy people had.

The Rainbow Landscape (Peter Paul Rubens, 1636) is a classic rendition of the 17th century farming landscape. This painting shows the perfection of the agricultural way of life, the peacefulness of a lazy day in his own fields with an abundant harvest.

The Sleeping Sportsman (Gabriel Metsu, 1658) shows a drunk asleep outside an inn, with a dead bird being stolen from him. The drunk’s dog is about to raise the alarm at the theft. This painting represents what happens when a man’s partner is stolen from him.

The Rape of Europa (Francois Boucher, 1733) is a representation of the story of the Greek god Jupiter. Jupiter disguised himself as a bull to attract Europa’s attention.

This tour was very enjoyable and communication was excellent. The tour brought the paintings to life and gave us a glimpse into the past, the values people held then and how art is used to represent life and ideals. The Wallace Collection has its own courtyard restaurant and is located minutes from Bond Street tube station. I’d recommend a visit.

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