In spring 2006, the period rooms at the Gemeentemuseum will be alive with birds: one of the most popular artistic subjects from the natural world. Birds of prey, decoys, songbirds, aviary birds and dead birds will be on display not only in form of prints, photographs, paintings and sculptures, but also as decorative motifs on folding screens, wallpaper designs, crockery, costumes, tapestries and musical instruments.
The human fascination with birds goes back to time immemorial. Our sense of wonder is engendered in part by the impossible longing to sprout our own wings and fly, and may well be is reinforced by envy at the splendid plumage of many birds. For artists, too, birds are an eternally popular subject – a point confirmed by the great diversity of forms in which they appear in the various collections of the Gemeentemuseum (modern art, decorative arts, fashion and music). This exuberant new exhibition will draw heavily on all of these, showing a gay profusion of work by well-known artists in a variety of period styles and disciplines. The artists will include both illustrious names like Willem Maris, J.H. Weissenbruch, M. C. Escher, Theo van Hoytema, G. W. Dijsselhof, Gerard Fieret, Karel Appel, and lesser-known ones like the young Swiss artist Léopold Rabus, one of whose works has only recently been acquired by the museum.
Down the centuries, birds have likewise been a major source of inspiration in interior decoration and the design of domestic ornaments and utensils. The tapestries in the museum’s Gobelin Room (ca. 1700) are alive with them – a fact now underlined by special fairytale lighting. While visitors to this room will be greeted by lively birdsong, in the Japanese Room (1720-1770) they can commune in silence with birds long passed away.
In the fine arts, the popularity of birds is due not only to their aesthetic qualities but also to their symbolic significance. The dove is used as a symbol of freedom or peace, the eagle of power, the peacock of vanity and ostentation, and the owl of wisdom. The exhibition will focus on the last two in particular, but also on the chicken and the duck. The phoenix will also be given special consideration. According to myth, this fabulous bird with its gorgeous plumage would live for 500 years before building itself a pyre on which to expire in flames and be reborn out of its own ashes. This tale, with its echoes of death and divine resurrection, has inspired a multitude of artists in cultures around the world.
The exhibition will also include a display of raptors and a collection of brightly coloured feathers. Finally, dedicated twitchers can indulge their passion by taking a stroll in the museum gardens. This exhibition in the romantic period rooms is a voyage of discovery which may turn even the most casual visitor into a true birdwatcher.