"Look Papa, Bulls!"
This is not meant to be a comprehensive history of animals in art. It's just a few of my own favourite periods and paintings. I wouldn't claim to be an expert on art or animals, but as a pet portrait artist and the owner of three dogs, I have more than a passing interest in the subjects. Animals have been a subject for artists since men first began to paint. The first known examples date back at least 17000 years. When the cave paintings of Altamira, in northern Spain came to light they were, quite literally a revelation. Nobody had any idea that our ancestors were capable of producing the kind of work that was revealed in the caves. The Altamira paintings were discovered in 1879 by a little girl called Maria. Her father was a Spanish nobleman and an amateur archeologist. One day he was looking for pre-historic tools that he thought might have been abandoned on the floor of the cave, thousands of years ago. He'd brought his small daughter along with him, and she was getting bored. Maria happened to glance up at the ceiling. "Look Papa", she said, "Bulls!"
It was not until 1903, long after the Don's death, that a young French priest called Henri Breuil began making copies of the paintings. Up until then academics had thought the paintings could be no more than 20 years old. Gradually the world became aware of the treasures in the cave.
Even more famous are the cave paintings which were found at Lascaux in the south of France in 1940. When Picasso first saw them he said, "We have learned nothing", and when you see this horse, (right) and the many others like it, you can see exactly what he meant. The beauty of it, the strength, the grace and the knowledge that the artist obviously had, are astounding. It is a true work of art. The artist lives in the same world as the horse, and yet he can be detached enough to observe it, and to comment on it. This is all the more remarkable when you consider that man was not the all-powerful 'lord of creation' that he likes to think he is today. He was a weak, vulnerable creature who, like a Mississippi gambler, survived on his wits. There is no doubt in my mind that these early men, fully integrated into the natural world as they were, already knew that they were somehow apart from it. Not yet able to control their environment in any significant way, they could still record images from their life on the walls of the cave, as in this painting of a horse from the Lascaux Cave.