Death in the Archives: Taxidermy in The Queen's House
27 Oct 2014
Did you know that Taxidermy has links to The Queen's House and the fine art collection on display within? It will also be a major part of our upcoming Death in the Archives event this Halloween.
The Queen's House has many myths and legends that surround it, all who visit conjure up an idea of what the house would have looked like in the various ages. With Halloween approaching and the current fascination with taxidermy it seemed fitting to include the activity in the evening that celebrates the dead. The Queen's House acted as a garden pavilion to allow the royal family to view deer hunting from the Loggia. The deer that live in the park today are the descendants from the deer that Henry VIII installed during his time at Greenwich palace. With this in mind there must have been some taxidermy in the house.
The other connection to taxidermy is the recently acquired George Stubbs' portraits of the Dingo and Kangaroo, both on display in The Art & Science of Exploration.
‘The Kongouro from New Holland’ by George Stubbs
The paintings were commissioned by Sir Joseph Banks, a wealthy naturalist and collector who accompanied Captain James Cook on H.M.S. Endeavour on his first voyage to the South Pacific (1769–1771). According to one of the art curators of The Queen's House the story goes that Banks' dog killed the Kangaroo and the skin came back in 1770. Admirers of Stubbs will no doubt recognize the difference between his wonderful paintings of horses and the Kangaroo and Dingo. Stubbs himself never saw a Kangaroo so let's not forget the significance of taxidermy in the representation of the unseen.
‘Portrait of a Large Dog’ by George Stubbs
Taxidermy has come back in a big way but it was the Victorian period when taxidermy reached its height and became an integral part of interior design. When I was thinking about the aesthetic for Halloween my mind wandered towards Walter Potter and his anthropomorphic dioramas that used to be in the Potter's Museum in Bramber. The pieces are fascinating and give us great insight into the minds of the Victorians, though the profession has come a long way since the Victorian period.
For our Halloween event we have employed Margot Magpie who is a member of the UK Guild of Taxidermists. Margot teaches workshops throughout London, but has very kindly given up her Halloween evening for a taxidermy demonstration at The Queen's House. There'll also be Candlelight tours of The Art & Science of Exploration along with death drawing in the great hall - whereby members of the public can draw the famous scenes of Captain Cook’s death. I am very much looking forward to the tales of death and destruction from the archives and hope the public enjoys the activities as much as the staff.
You can book tickets for Death in the Archives online.