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Fierce Friends:   Artists and Animals, 1750-1900
By Louise Lippincott and Andreas Bluhm
Illustrated. 160 pp.
Merrell. US$49.95
ISBN-10: 1858943000 / ISBN-13: 9781858943008

To open Fierce Friends: Artists and Animals, 1750-1900 is to be immediately absorbed into the emotionally stunning images it contains. Once you open its pages you will be visually and literally translated into another time, another place, another sensibility. If the factor that differentiates "art" from "non-art" is its meaning, then the a way to truly appreciate art is try to understand something of the context in which it was created. This book present images of animals in artwork and other visual media, such as fairs, museum exhibitions and scientific illustrations, plus it offers an utterly fascinating, at times even brilliant, social commentary on the changing nature of those creatures with whom we share this planet.

The way we view animals has changed substantially over the last 250 years. The eighteenth century person believed animals were devoid of a soul, a belief which, if not a justification for the animal cruelty so prevalent at the time, was at least a convenient absence of argument against it. This book, in presenting animals in art from 1750-1900, portrays the time when first the Enlightenment and then science radically changed our perception of animals from soulless, unfeeling beings who were utterly, separate, different, and inferior to ourselves into the essential, feeling, deserving creatures we see them as today.

By portraying this changing sensibility through image and word, the authors of Fierce Friends: Artists and Animals, 1750-1900 have allowed the reader a glimpse into the eighteenth-century through the visual medium -- a medium that is even more powerful in our day than it was in theirs. Some of the images are startlingly modern in their look, for having been painted in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The reader can view the works of through the prism of the sensibility of that day, thus translating their meaning into increased visual impact. Thus are human's changing "truths" about animals -- and our relationship with them -- transformed into a vision that is understandable to today's mind.

From Achille-Fould to Whymper with Hogarth in between, the artists represented in this work broadly represent the European and American artists of their day. The subject matter includes animals in all capacities and all treatments, from a sculpture of an ape riding a horse to a dog nursing her puppies, a painting characterized as representative of the moment when Western thought began to include the possibility animals having a soul. Some of the depictions are serious and moving; others are oddly humorous, such as the images of monkeys creating or criticizing paintings.

If there is any complaint against this art book, it is that this reader would like to see more of it! Any animal lover or student of the social impact of art would appreciate this book.

Robert G. Edelstein, for Notable Book Reviews
Notable Book Reviews received one or more copies of this book in exchange for this review.
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