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From the Common to the Exotic: Animals in the Current Exhibition of Danish porcelain

Posted on March 4, 2021 at 11:43 AM by Adrienne Gennett



The exhibition Art Nouveau Innovation: Danish Porcelain from an American Collector  currently at the Brunnier Art Museum includes a wide variety of shapes and decorations throughout the nearly 100 objects on exhibit. Among the decorative motifs are many animals, some native to Scandinavia and others that are quite exotic. Lizards emerge from around naturalistic ornamentation, wild birds fly and stand undisturbed on platters or vases, and a bat masquerades as a wall pocket. Kangaroos hop along around a vase and snakes entwine to create their own design element. A polar bear figurine roars, while a small mouse peeks out at the top of a vase. The range of animals represented is surprising, bringing a sense of whimsy to the objects, but also represents the importance Danish artists placed on nature in their work.

Artists and modelers working for Royal Copenhagen were known to bring animals to the factory grounds, such as ducks and turkeys, to study as they created their realistic depictions. Other animal figurines and box forms were probably cast from specimens, such as the Crab Box. This technique allowed the artist to create an exact mold of the animal, preserving and replicating details that may be lost through only studying the form. But how did they come across polar bears and kangaroos? The best guess was at the Copenhagen Zoo located near to the factory. The zoological gardens opened in 1859 and continues to operate situated in the midst of the bustling city. Certainly the close proximity of a large zoo allowed for the opportunity to draw and study a range of exotic animals that must have made their way into the porcelain designs and figurines. As a counter to the ferocious roaring polar bear is the sculpture of a gentler, more relaxed polar bear taking a drink from a shallow pool of water, showing the breadth of study of these animals that the artists may have undertook.

I challenge you to find all the animals in the exhibition before it closes on May 9th. Many are obvious, while others are hidden and take a curious eye to find, but all are wonderfully lifelike and depicted with great sensitivity. Even the scary spiders, sting rays, and bats!


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