Post #1037 • August 22, 2007, 11:48 AM • 4 Comments
Los Angeles - Jean-Baptiste Oudry won reknown painting animals for the court of Louis XV. His patrons included royalty from Denmark to Russia, and authorities granted him a solo exhibition at Versailles in 1726. Clara, adopted at the age of one month into a Dutch businessman's estate in Calcutta, won admiration for her good nature and table manners even as a two-year-old. By the end of her career, she had toured Europe, commanded the attentions of fashionable society, and inspired poetry, songs, and hairstyles. Their paths crossed in 1749, and the collaboration resulted in a life-size portrait, nearly fifteen feet wide, now on display at Oudry's Painted Menagerie at the Getty, along with a generous sampling of Oudry's paintings and drawings of fauna. Clara, I suppose I should mention, was a rhinoceros.
As such, her portrait represents a logistical triumph if not a technical one, a technical triumph if not an artistic one, and, without a doubt, an artistic triumph among life-size portraits of rhinos in profile. One could mock this whole exercise, but I'd caution anyone who would. Oudry dealt in problems of realistic animal depiction that no one fully solved until the invention of photography seventy years after his death. He tended to make critters look goggle-eyed instead of fierce as he likely intended, but otherwise produced fine images, some which qualify as tours de force if not masterpieces, sporting verisimilitude, drama, and impressive scale. His drawings even surpass his paintings a touch, with great sensitivity and economy considering the scientific nature of the pursuit. Furthermore, a canny installation explores the measurable impact of the rhinoceros on European art, including prints by Dürer and Albinus, continuing forward to Clara's inspiration to the decorative arts of the time. Like a meaningful dream that sounds silly upon retelling, this exhibition proves compensating for reasons that make sense within their own framework, a milieu of discovery, curiosity, craft, and newfound wonders.