An Unusual Animal Art Show Brings Together the Wild, the Wooly, and the Endangered in Paris

Jeff Koons, "Poodle," 1991
(Courtesy Berardo Collection Museum, Lisbon)

“Animal Beauty,” on view at Paris’s Grand Palais through July 16, is a menagerie of 120 animal-themed artworks from the Renaissance to the contemporary era. With a crowd-pleasing focus, the show aims to bring together lesser-known artists alongside big names such as Rembrandt and Picasso, and also makes a point of considering animals in their real-world context.

Curator Emmanuelle Héran conceived of the show 13 years ago, inspired by the Musée d’Orsay’s holdings. Visitors can enjoy a cat by Giacometti, a Jeff Koons poodle, and anonymous works, such as a 1619 painting of 71 bird species on loan from Strasbourg’s Fine Arts Museum. “I fought to get certain works: van Gogh’s bat, Goya’s cats,” Héran told ARTINFO France. Unfortunately she wasn’t able to get her hands on one of Louise Bourgeois’s haunting spiders. Still, a number of loans have made the show quite comprehensive.

“There are some works that were self-evident, such as studies and paintings of horses by Gericault and Degas, but also Gabriel von Max’s ‘Monkeys as Art Critics.’” As for this last work, if anyone is wondering why Héran wanted to include this satire of the art critic, it may have something to do with the resistance she encountered to the notion of a show of animals in art. “I had to stop people from mocking the idea,” Héran said. “The animal is a very noble subject... [and a] marginal subject in art history that clashes with received ideas.”

The show's final room focuses on endangered species. Héran told ARTINFO France that this was not part of her original vision, but that as the exhibition developed and touched on extinct species such as the dodo, it became necessary to bear witness to threatened species. This also speaks to the show’s educational nature, and Héran has made sure that young visitors can appreciate the art. “We made a special effort to make the exhibition design comfortable, with soft carpeting and works that are hung five centimeters lower than usual.” 

Click on the slide show to see images from “Animal Beauty,” on display at the Grand Palais through July 16.