A new exhibition at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton
explores how animals considered exotic by the Georgians and early Victorians were depicted, kept and presented.
Exotic Creatures looks at animals owned by the Royal Family and in menageries and early zoos, as well as the political beasts of the period (c.1740-1850). A painting of liger cubs (a cross between a lion and a tigress) born at Windsor in 1824, and presented to Royal Pavilion creator George IV shortly after, is being displayed to the public for the first time.
Another rarely-seen painting will tell the story of the UKs first living giraffe, given to George IV as a diplomatic gift by the Pasha of Egypt in 1826.
Other works on show include satirical prints, original menagerie bills, sculptural and ceramic pieces and paintings and archival material. The exhibition takes a playful approach suitable for all the family, and a childrens Royal Pavilion Creature Trail - pointing to the creatures and mythological beasts hiding in the Pavilions décor - is available to buy.
The exhibition is organised around four main themes:
George IV, himself considered exotic and unpredictable by many, kept a significant collection of exotic animals in his private menagerie at Windsor Great Park continuing a tradition dating back to the keeping of lions at the Tower of London Menagerie in the early 13th century. The exhibition will tell the stories of individual exotic animals and explain the transition to public menageries, the establishment of the Zoological Society of London in 1826, and the opening of its Gardens - later known as London Zoo - in 1828.
Public and travelling menageries and early zoos
Many of the exhibits will have a strong connection with Brighton, whose residents enjoyed regular visits from travelling menageries and animal performances in the Royal Pavilion grounds. A permanent zoological garden was proposed on the site now occupied by Park Crescent, where lions still top the gateposts of the southern garden wall.
The late Georgian period saw a change in attitudes to how and why exotic animals where kept, and in the late 1820s the Zoological Society of London, devoted to scientific research, was founded. This led to the establishment of what is now London Zoo.
Georges mother Queen Charlotte kept a zebra in the 1760s and ordered a rhino to perform for her childrens amusement, while George IV gave ostriches as presents to mistresses and kept kangaroos at Windsor Great Park. He also received the first living giraffe on British soil as a diplomatic gift.
The young female giraffe arrived in August 1827 after a long and strenuous journey from Africa, by which time neither she nor George were in a good state of health. Cartoonists mercilessly poked fun at both but the exhibitions portrait by Swiss artist Jacques-Laurent Agasse is more sympathetic, depicting the giraffe in great detail with her keepers in Windsor Great Park. Although two Egyptian cows were drafted in as wet nurses she struggled in the UK, and died around two years later (more info available on request).
Animals were a popular device for mocking politicians and royals in Georgian satire and caricatures, as depicted in Brighton Museum and the Royal Pavilions extensive collections (many of which are hand-coloured).
The exhibition demonstrates how the arrival of exotic animals influenced fashion and the decorative arts in Britain, with giraffe-patterned wallpaper, teapots and fabrics becoming hugely popular in the late 1820s. It also addresses the challenges of creating anatomically correct images of non-native animals in the Georgian era, and the periods simultaneous passions for scientific research and the use (and abuse) of animals in entertainment.
As well as caricatures and striking Staffordshire figures from Brighton Museum & Art Gallerys own collection, curator Alexandra Loske has sourced significant loans from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the British Museum, Royal Collection Trust and private collections. She said:
Were thrilled to have secured the loan of one of the most popular and beautiful animal paintings in British art, a portrait of George IVs giraffe - commissioned by the king himself and still in the Royal Collection. Another highlight is the V&As exquisite bronze statue of a rhino named Clara, which toured Europe in the 1740s and 1750s of which only four survive.
Were also very proud to be displaying a painting of liger cubs, attributed to Richard Barrett Davis. The cubs were born in Windsor in 1824 and presented to George IV, and were painted by leading animal painters including Agasse. The painting in our exhibition was recently bought by a local collector and supporter of the Royal Pavilion Foundation, and is being displayed to the public for the very first time.