Private Collector (and sold: Sotheby's, New York, October 13, 1978, lot 204A, illustrated)
F. Michael Shapiro, Los Angeles
Located in the northern part of Paris' Bois de Bolgone, the Jardin d'Acclimatation (also known as the Jardin Zoologique d'Acclimatation) was opened on October 6, 1860 by Napoleon III and Empress Eugènie. The Jardin was designed, in part, to compensate for the heavily man-made landscapes of the Bois du Boulogne and entirely rebuilt into picturesque landscapes under Baron Haussmann's guidance in 1852-58. Its early director Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire intended the Jardin to "acclimatize" newly imported exotic animals to European environments, ultimately domesticating them or cross-breeding with domestic species (Baratay and Fugier, pp. 141-6). Though kangaroos, giraffes, and monkeys resided in enclosed houses or cages, others of the menagerie were allowed relative freedom to roam in low-fenced enclosures. It is one of these areas that Goubie depicts with vivid detail in the present work, exhibited to acclaim at the Paris Salon of 1882. Here, a crowd of children (accompanied by mothers and caretakers) feed an eager gander of geese, along with swans and ducks, while others enjoy an animal ride.
A student of Jean-Léon Gérôme, Goubie secured his reputation with equestrian scenes of well-dressed Belle Époque riders on a country ride or hunt astride handsome horses. The present work further demonstrates his keen sensitivity to the relationship of people and animals. This composition could easily illustrate late nineteenth century guidebooks to Paris, such as the widely read editions published by Karl Baedeker, who encouraged a visit to the Jardin's "enclosures... containing quadrupeds trained for the purposes of the garden or the amusement of visitors. A great source of delight to children here is a ride on the back of an elephant or a dromedary, or a drive in a carriage drawn by ostriches, llamas, etc. (Karl Baedeker, Paris and Environs, 7th ed., 1881, p. 159). As Goubie portrays, the elephants in particular drew great crowds (a ride reasonably priced at 25 centimes generated enormous revenue for Paris and other cities' zoos, see: fig. 1). The pachyderm's bulk and strength seemed an incredible feat of nature, while its docile termerament encouraged visitors to make safe contact (Baratay and Fugier, p. 173). As Baedeker promised, spending a sunny afternoon among the Jardin's animals afforded "one of the most attractive promenades in the environs of Paris" (Baedeker, p. 158). Parisians could step away from city streets and into a realm of exotic (if heavily cultivated and curated) delight.
Goubie's panoramic composition creates a dramatic sense of space and movement: he places the promenaders along a winding path, allowing the viewer to follow them from the horizon line and as they exit the picture space. An element of humor further enlivens the subject, which skewers the visitors' eagerness to "see and be seen" among the Jardin's inhabitants. The blues, reds, bright pinks and purples of the children's smart costumes outshine the fur and feathers of the animals on display. Only the ostrich, pulling the red carriage, its long neck rising above the crowd, seems to acknowledge the viewer's presence.
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