Monday, 1 September 2008

A Place in the Auvergne, Saturday, 30th August 2008


IW: Unless my wife brings something to my attention, the newsfast continues, until Monday, 1st September 2008.

LONDON: Serious issues about the nature of art pop up in unexpected places. It was left to an enchanting show of "Amazing Rare Things," on view until Sept. 28 at the Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace, to reveal how documentary illustration transmutes into artistic creation.
Orchestrated by Sir David Attenborough, grand master of wildlife studies, the exhibition of drawings and watercolors is entirely drawn from the Royal Collection.
In "Sea purslane (Sesuvium portulacastrum) and Surinam toad (Pipa pipa)," a toad swims toward a big undulating flower and two shells. Attenborough disapprovingly remarks that "it is not easy to understand why Merian chose to associate seashells, a Seashore plant and the toad, a Freshwater species." Actually, it is easy. The artist, taking precedence over the scientist, created the image of an enchanted world that anticipates the imaginary jungles painted in the 19th century by the French naïf artist Le Douanier Rousseau.
Catesby's precise rendition of birds, notwithstanding some of his watercolors, are light-hearted gems of Surrealist art. In "Head of the flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber) and gorgonian (Plexaura flexuosa)," a close-up view of the bird's pink head with its enormous beak hovers in emptiness across the backdrop of a marine animal resembling a spindly leafless bush. The beady eye of the flamingo drills through the viewer's mind. Salvador Dalí would not have done it any better.
Attenborough the scientist deplores the lack of scale and the arbitrary grouping of the bird and marine animal that thrive in different habitats. Catesby, the born artist, evidently did not care, nor do we.
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