Jean-Baptiste Oudry - Dead Crane

by Stefanie Meier-Kaftan

Some animal still lifes shine by being dedicated to just one species of animal. An example of this is the painting "Dead Crane" by Jean-Baptiste Oudry, which shows a menagerie bird that died at the hands of humans. The sarus crane, which originates from India, is considered the largest crane species with a body length of up to 1.50 m, making it an exceedingly stately bird. Its plumage is predominantly slate-gray in color, the most striking feature being the distinctive red coloring on the head, which extends over the upper third of the neck.


The background, kept in muted colors, still makes the crane, spread lifelessly on the ground, look opulent. The coloration of the magnificent plumage shows the finest gradations. Even though the animal's legs are bound, its neck appears broken and its wings hang spread to the side, the crane has not lost its grace. Half-open eyes seem to look at the viewer almost reproachfully.


The French animal, hunting and landscape painter Jean-Baptiste Oudry was, among other things, active as court painter to the French King Louis XV. He used drawings and color studies of animals from the royal zoo in Versailles as models for his naturalistic depictions of animals. Among his animal depictions are hunting and animal still lifes, which are characterized on the one hand by the range of exotic animal species and on the other hand by a very realistic rendering of the individual species.


He created a series of large-scale paintings of menagerie animals. From this series of paintings, the Crane, painted in 1745, is the only painting that shows a dead animal. Why the artist chose to depict a dead animal in this particular case is not known for certain. The other animals from this series of paintings also include exotic species, including portraits of an antelope, a leopard, and a cassowary.


Animal portraits and hunting still lifes were especially popular with nobles and princes. Naturalistic depictions such as this crane adorned mainly stately collection rooms or natural history cabinets. Our natural history museums of today emerged as indirect successors of natural history cabinets and cabinets of curiosities, which served princely representation and the urge to explore. Here, the curiosity to collect and possess exotic things was already evident. The relevant objects were later made accessible to the public in the natural history museums. The Musée d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris, which emerged from the Jardin du Roi in 1793, is considered a model for the establishment of public natural history museums in Europe.


Jean-Baptiste Oudry - Dead Crane

Oil on canvas, 1745, 162 x 128 cm, State Museum in Schwerin, Germany

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