The wish to smudge the boundaries between life and death is an ancient one, and throughout history it has taken many guises and a variety of forms. One of them is taxidermy. And taxidermy has itself been used for many purposes and with very varied intention. Over the years it has fallen in and then out of favour but today, after decades in the doldrums, it is back in fashion.
Contemporary artists use it in their productions, collectors avidly seek antique examples or assemble new work sourced from animals that have died accidentally or from natural causes. No longer is it necessarily inspired by hunting and shooting, or the willful destruction of wild animals.
This book is a visual stroll through great examples of the craft – both historical and contemporary – with a commentary throwing light on its aims and intentions. Work commissioned by the world’s great museums is featured; so too are pieces ordered by private collectors including familiar names from the past. Charles Dickens, for instance, grieving at the death of his pet raven, paid a taxidermist to preserve its outward form.
Taxidermy has served the cause of science, satisfied curiosity or ego, provided decoration, been produced to shock, educate, enthrall or entertain, suffered scorn and derision, been overlaid with artistic pretension – and, sometimes, even received acclaim!
Here is a visual record of some of its most intriguing achievements.