An unusual exhibit at Greenwich’s Bruce Museum should appeal to animal lovers as well as art-goers.
By Arthur Stampleman
An unusual exhibit at Greenwich’s Bruce Museum should appeal to animal lovers as well as art-goers. “Fierce & Fragile: Big Cats in the Art of Robert Dallet” illustrates the activities and habitats of eight species. In addition the exhibit has a very clear message that will appeal to animal lovers: it raises awareness of the precarious existence of these animals and programs to protect them. The exhibit is as much about animal conservation as it is about art, quite appropriate for a museum devoted to both art and natural history.
The French artist and naturalist Robert Dallet (1926-2006) was born in Normandy but moved to Paris to develop a career as an illustrator. He spent much of his life there and in the south of France. He had an interest in nature, became a frequent visitor to the Paris zoo, developed a passion for the big cats and the need to paint their portraits. This led him to travel to zoos and habitats the world over to sketch and paint them. He created animal illustrations for books, for Air Afrique travel advertisements, and others.
The exhibit is a collaboration between Paris-based Hermes, the maker of high-end scarves for women and other ladies luxury goods founded in 1837, and Panthera, the New York-based global wild cat conservation organization formed in 2006. Dallet’s work attracted the attention of Hermes senior executives in the 1980s, which resulted in the creation of 25 or more Hermes scarfs featuring the big cats over the years. The Hermes-Panthera collaboration assembled the exhibit recently to pay homage to Dallet and outline critical conservation efforts underway to protect these animals. Greenwich is the first stop of the exhibit, which after March 13 will travel to ten centers in Europe.
Some 60 drawings, sketches, and paintings, plus one Hermes tiger scarf based on a painting in the exhibit, make up the show. Each cat has a gallery section devoted to it with several pencil drawings or ink sketches or both, and a few watercolor or gouache paintings. Each section also has a map showing the animal’s habitats and an extensive wall label commenting on animal, the works, threats to the animal, and conservation steps underway. At the end of the gallery there are several oil paintings on canvas behind an unusual glass wall and peep holes to view cats stalking their prey.
Dallet’s drawings, sketches, and paintings are all very realistic images capturing the bodies, positions, movement, activities and habitats of the cats. They evidence outstanding draftsmanship. A jaguar painting highlights its role as a powerful fighter. The pale color of the coat on a northwestern African cheetah emphasizes how this natural feature reflecting the sun protects the animal. We see how tigers mark their territory and a snow leopard hunt series. Some may ask whether Dallet is an illustrator or an artist, just as some raise that question about Norman Rockwell. The answer to that is that Norman Rockwell now appears in major museums; both men were artists.
The wall labels are very informative. The cats native to the Americas are the jaguar and the puma, though the puma has several names because its habitat extends into so many countries. Asia and or Africa are the home of the other big cats. Panthera’s conservation efforts are quite impressive, such as developing a conservation strategy for jaguars, fitting GPS collars on clouded leopards to track their movement, vaccinating farmers’ herds in exchange for farmer agreements not to kill snow leopards, and a program with forest rangers to prevent poaching of tigers.
The Bruce Museum is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10 to 5 and Sunday 1 to 5. Docent tours are offered most Tuesdays at 1:30 and most Fridays at 12:30. For information, contact 203-869-0376 or www.brucemuseum.org. Admission to the museum is free during the Dallet exhibit.