During London Art Week, 3-10 July 2015, the neighbouring Old Master galleries of Rafael Valls and Tomasso Brothers Fine Art
will present a complimentary brace of exhibitions depicting a grand collection of artists animals: The Painters Menagerie and The Sculptors Menagerie respectively. From an exotic rhinoceros carved in coloured marble to an early study of a mouse by Jan Brueghel the Younger, the featured animals hail from all corners of the globe, and encompass the variety of wild and domestic creatures that have captured the imagination of artists for millennia.
Works date from classical antiquity to the 19th century, by European and British Old Master painters and sculptors, the two fields in which these galleries excel. Both exhibitions are bound to delight the casual observer as well as keen lovers of fauna.
Take the horse: at Tomasso Brothers Fine Art, a bronze Écorché Horse by Francesco Righetti (1749-1819) is a fascinating visual testimony to the close connections between art and natural science. The sculpture is at once a detailed anatomical study and a painstaking artistic tour de force, in which the animals every muscle is finely outlined to reveal both the beauty of nature and the sculptors bravura. At Rafael Valls Gallery, in an oil painting dating to a century earlier, the horse is shown quite differently, caparisoned in rich trappings including a Spanish dress saddle and waiting for its rider. This colourful work by Viennese Court painter Philip Ferdinand de Hamilton (1664-1750) depicts the horse mastered by man. It is, perhaps, a stallion trained in the classical equitation of the famed Spanish Riding School in Vienna, the ultimate harmony between rider and horse.
Other notable works in the exhibitions include a rare, impressive picture of a peacock and chickens by British painter Charles Collins (1680-1744), and an unusual painting of pumas by C19th Liverpool artist William Huggins; this intimate work is a departure from his usual depictions of lions but illustrative of his enduring interest in big cats (at Rafael Valls Gallery); a small-scale yet powerful study of a pacing bull by Barthélemy Prieur (1540-1611), sculptor to King Henry IV of France and a roaring lion head in bronze, perhaps once a waterspout, from ancient Rome, whose lineage of inspiration harks back to Assyrian lions of the 9th century BC (at Tomasso Brothers Fine Art).