An ocean of sympathies.

…Lacking any biographical details about the artist, one can only indulge one’s fantasies in imagining the reasons which might have induced this workman from Upper Austria, a dyer by profession, to undertake so zealously between 1832 and 1887 the elaboration of the most sumptuous bestiary ever seen.

It would almost seem as though Zötl’s vision, trained professionally to detect the most subtle colours and tones, had endowed him with a mental prism functioning as an instrument of second-sight and revealing to him in succession, back to its most distant origins, the animal kingdom which remains such an enigmatic aspect in each of our lives and which plays such an essential role in the symbolism of the unconscious mind. ‘The world of animals’, according to Lamartine, ‘is an ocean of sympathies of which we take only a single sip when we could, if we wished, drink it in torrents.’

…It would be…futile to speculate on the origin of the documents, very few of them probably scenes taken from life, which Zötl used to depict this perfect organic harmony between the animal and its environment, of which he is the living hieroglyph. What is so marvellous in Zötl’s paintings is that these two quantities are constantly expressed in terms of each other, and that the artist’s extraordinary ardour conjures up before our eyes the vision of universal harmony which exists, repressed, in the very depths of our beings.

From André Breton, Aloys Zötl, 1956, in Surrealism and Painting.

Pictures from top to bottom, all from Aloys Zötl’s Bestiary: Caiman (1849), Mole (1876), Pangolin (1833), Blue Turtle (1881), Three-banded Armadillo (1866).

Zötl’s Bestiary is mentioned in The Deep Zoo, a essay written by Rikki Ducornet in 2002.


One thought on “An ocean of sympathies.

  1. A labor of love certainly. The 19th century brought an explosion of interest in the natural world, expressed often in artistic form. A method of controlling wild nature, taming it, making it more comprehensible, or merging nature into our lives. Think of Paul Gauguin,

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