From a Lion to a Bullfinch. Animals in Art from the Stern Family Collection
Estonia’s only private collection focused on wildlife art are on view in the exhibition From a Lion to a Bullfinch. Animals in Art from the Stern Family Collection at the Mikkel Museum. The exhibition will be accompanied by a series of events related to ways of depicting animals and birds and their backgrounds, starting with Estonia’s first Wildlife Days and ending with special tours.
“The foundation for our treasury of wildlife art was established in the early 1960s by my father, Karoly, who was the long-time director of the Tallinn Zoo,” says the collector and cardiologist Aleksander Stern, talking about how the collection started. “My father’s love of nature, animals and birds got its start in his childhood, which was spent mostly in the vicinity of the Budapest Zoo. At the zoo as a small boy, he also saw for the first time how respected artists and many amateurs portrayed animals and birds.”
Wildlife art is one of the world’s oldest art genres and it has been cultivated by countless talented artists throughout history. For them, an animal is not simply an animal, but also an object of admiration and examination, a creature that is aesthetically and emotionally stirring; it is not just a worthy opponent for humans in the struggle to survive, but also a companion and partner. Wild, domesticated and pet animals and birds have long been depicted, along with practically everything that lives and moves. Wildlife art covers all the areas of life related to animals and also involves a variety of materials, techniques and formats.
Included in the Stern collection are works by such world-renowned artists as August Gaul, Antoine Louis Barye and Wilhelm Kuhnert. The Russian artists represented by works at the exhibition include Vassili Vatagin, Konstantin Flerov and Valentin Serov. Works in the wildlife art genre by Estonian artists, such as Jaan Koort, Paul and Karl Burman, Eduard Wiiralt and Leili Muuga, are also included. An important place in the collection is occupied by the contemporary Russian sculptor Vitali Novikov, who has portrayed many inhabitants of the Tallinn and Moscow Zoos.
“Wildlife art reflects the world-views, natural sciences and humanities, as well as art developments, of various periods. Wildlife art has always been addressed to adults, but it has also played an important role in helping to raise the younger generation to be nature- and art-friendly,” said the art historian Mai Levin, who is one of the exhibition’s curators.
In the 1960s, Karoly Stern established personal ties with the best wildlife artists in Russia. He also developed similar acquaintanceships in Germany, where there were also strong traditions in the wildlife art genre. As a result, the majority of the collection was acquired directly from the artists. From time to time, interesting finds from antique shops in St. Petersburg (Leningrad) and Moscow were added to the collection, and slowly the collection started to acquire a broader international dimension. Recently, however, purchases made at auctions in Western Europe have predominated. Of course, some valuable finds have also been made in Estonia.
Exhibition sponsors: Tallinn Zoo, Kadriorg German Upper Secondary School, PR Partnerid and Stabilo.
The exhibition From a Lion to a Bullfinch. Animals in Art from the Stern Family Collection will be open at the Mikkel Museum until 13 October 2013.