The Gemeentemuseum Den Haag’s new Animals Galore exhibition presents an amazing multiplicity of animals. A sweep of the museum’s rich and varied decorative arts, fashion and sculpture collections has yielded an extraordinary diversity of species from around the world: everything from camels to quail and from dragonflies to rays. Together, they tell new tales about inspiration down the centuries and influences between east and west, about imitation, and about the use and re-use of different media.
Animals are a favourite subject in the decorative arts and are associated with a wealth of symbolic meanings in both oriental and western cultures. For example, dragons have protective and auspicious connotations that make them a common feature of oriental ceramics and textiles. Similarly, the owl’s status as a symbol of wisdom made it extremely popular among Dutch decorative artists in the early twentieth century. But symbolism was not the only reason why the animal kingdom has so often been a source of inspiration for artists and designers throughout history. The many shapes and colours of living creatures also account for the extraordinary popularity of objects featuring them. And artists are used to drawing from nature as part of their training.
This exhibition shows animals in many different forms: both as sculptures and as two-dimensional depictions, not just in paintings, but also on vases, fans, dresses etc. They frequently serve to adorn flat surfaces, like the gorgeously coloured butterflies and dragonflies that appear on porcelain and glass. But there are also many three-dimensional examples, serving as knobs or handles of various kinds. They include two griffin-shaped handles on a vase from the Amstelhoek pottery, the serpentine stem of a 17th-century glass goblet, and a camel-shaped knob adorning a lidded vase by Leon Senf (Porceleyne Fles).
Selections from the rich collections of the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag are constantly on display in the museum. Animals Galore presents visitors with a unique cross-section of objects from the decorative arts, fashion and sculpture collections. The vividly colourful exhibition is open to the public from Saturday 25 April.