Lions installed at Trafalgar Square 1867
I was full of rage and terribly saddened by the dastardly murder of Cecil the lion by a pathetic excuse for a man/hunter. The tragic death has had one positive effect, it has really advanced the conversation about killing for fun the way Black Fish has raised awareness about the plight of captive killer whales. To honor animal spirits and dislodge that horrid image of the leering dentist and the dead lion from of my brain, I thought it would be cathartic for me to write of one of the greatest animal artists of all time and share some of his wondrous works.
One of the most iconic portrayals of leonine majesty would have to be the quartet of 22 foot high bronze lions astride Nelson’s Column in London’s Trafalgar Square created by Edwin Landseer.
Landseer working on the lions by John Ballantyne
Landseer’s lion study
Edwin Landseer, born into a family of master engravers, was prodigiously gifted from a very early age. He could paint with both hands at the same time (quite a parlor trick).
Although his work was already being shown in London at 13, he achieved fame at 18 with his dramatic portrait of Alpine Mastiffs going to the rescue of a traveler. It made a big splash and even created a tradition. The dog on the right is more familiar St. Bernard, on the left is the extinct Alpine Mastiff. That barrel of brandy on the Alpine Mastiff's collar –– it’s all Landseer’s fault the poor animals now wear the damn things (they are heavy and awkward and the dogs really don't like them). He put a cask on the great beast’s collar in this painting and the idea caught on.
Landseer lion study
Isaac van Amburgh with his Animals, 1838
Mares and Foals, Stubbs 1762
Landseer, Study of a horse
Although I loved the cool authority of earlier artist George Stubb’s magnificent equine portraits, Edwin Landseer’s peerless dogs, lions, and yes, sometimes even horses were the rage of Victorian England (grand Stubbs show at the Met this summer, btw).
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with animals by Landseer
He was Queen Victoria’s favorite artist. He actually helped the Queen with her sketching and taught the Queen and Prince Albert how to etch. They even had a small press installed at Balmoral so they could make prints of their work. He spent much time at Balmoral with the family, painting them and their many pets.
Mental illness struck Landseer in 1840 and would recur for the rest of his life. It led him to use narcotics for relief (he was probably manic-depressive) and sometimes forced him to be institutionalized but rarely kept him from his work. The Queen was inconsolable when he died. Many observed, “Her Majesty’s kindly, we might almost say tender, compassion for her distraught artist in his last sad days. Though she did not come in person to see him, her messages were always full of comfort and kind thought.” She had a book of etchings of his paintings made for her to treasure as well as the dozens of works in oil and on paper that he had made for her when he lived. She was terribly fond of all of them.
Queen Victoria’s Dogs, 1838 “Hector, Nero, and Dash with the parrot Lory”
Prince Albert’s dog, Eos, 1841
A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society, 1838
Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner
Queen Victoria's mother's dog Quiz and a St Bernard pal
Monarch of the Glen, 1851
Serving the Guns
This is where we started, isn’t it, the hunting part?
I do understand a love and reverence for animals that inspires art like Stubbs’ and Landseer’s and inspires many of us to have animal paintings, sculptures and photographs as well as the animals themselves all about our houses. Animal videos on YouTube are consistently viral sensations – I can understand that. I cannot understand the taking of a beautiful animal life to hang on a wall to have something to boast about and crow over – that I simply cannot understand.
I am not, nor have I ever been, a hunter. I love looking at beautiful beasts in the wild but can’t bear going to zoos or seeing animals in cages. The idea of enjoying killing is beyond me. Watching a creature run from me in terror is not my idea of a good time. I see nothing brave or sportsmanlike about shining a light in an animal’s eyes and shooting it. There is only cowardice in a canned hunt – some pathetic John Wayne delusion (who for all his swagger got out of serving in WWII). Even worse, as in Cecil’s case, the idea of hunters who shoot and do not kill – making the animal suffer for hours or days with a bullet or arrow in them –– horrible. Makes you think we haven’t advanced past brutal cave men who at least killed for hunger -- to do it for trophies???
The Wild Cattle of Chillingham
Death of the Wild Bull, 1833
My experience with hunters has not been positive. I used to have a house in prime hunting territory and saw hunters in the fall –– drunk, shooting up the land, wounding but not killing and just leaving dead animals they were too lazy to field-dress (I put an orange vest on my St. Bernard so he wouldn’t be mistaken for a white tail deer and get shot because the hunters were so careless). I also saw Bambi as a child and believe you me –– I’ve thought of hunters as pure black evil since I was 5 or 6 (sorry Hank Shaw, I can’t help it). It’s a hard thing to change your attitude when something is so powerfully ingrained in your psyche.
I do eat meat, so I have to accept responsibility for the death-for-my-dinner thing. It is perhaps hypocritical and cowardly to point any fingers at a hunter, yet for me, i would feel like a soldier in war –– having to shoot into the darkness I might be able to do, having to look someone in the eye and shoot is another. Once you make real contact that’s it. Once it’s a man and not ‘the other’ most men can’t pull the trigger. If I had to shoot my dinner, I would be a vegetarian.
Best of all is to make sure we treat all creatures great and small with love and affection. If we must kill it should be done quickly and humanely after a life well lived. Adam Gopnik said in the New Yorker this week, “So let us mock the sentimentalists who weep loudly for Cecil, and chide them for being insufficiently attentive to other circles of suffering, and those they find less easy to love than lions. But let us not mock too much: the instincts and habits that make us extend our circles of compassion outward, however irrationally, are the ones that bring us closer to something like a shared natural morality. Rest in peace, Cecil.” Amen, Adam.
Punch cartoon from 1867 (Nelson is on top of the pillar that the lion’s surround)
Although I don’t know how much of a sportsman Landseer was, he did use the bodies of dead animals for studies of musculature and bones. Because it took Landseer so long to do the lions of Trafalgar, there was a story going around that the lion corpse that he used got so ripe that it had to be tossed before he was done working on the feet which were not as perfectly realistic as the rest of the beast (since he had been sketching lions since childhood it seems implausible that he would not have had many examples to draw from to do the work – tongues were wagging because it had taken so very long to deliver the work).
I found Landseer’s love of Scotland’s fields, forests, streams, rivers, and the beasts and men that inhabit the beautiful country terribly inspiring. It set me combing over an old 19th century Scottish cookbook, The Cookery Book of Lady Clark of Tillypronie for authentic Scottish recipes to get an idea what men of Landseer’s time would have done with their feathered bounty – to get the flavor of the time. I also found a great game cookbook from the early part of the 20th century The Derrydale Game Cookbook
In them I found some pretty interesting recipes for grouse mousses and soufflés, as well as the more traditional roasts and pies. Many were downright weird, and others were boring as all get out.
Working with my stash of D’Artagnan’s Wild Scottish Game Birds, I decided I wanted to do a partridge, and the The Derrydale Game Cookbook had a splendid Panned Partridge Port Wine Sauce that was amazing –– I could drink this sauce. I added just a bit of Aftelier Petit Grain chefs essence to the stuffing for an extra hit of orange –– the fragrance permeated the meat that was also tender and juicy. I am going to try a game bird pie and a game bird mousse soon –– just not today.
2 Wild Scottish Partridges from D’Artagnan
1 -2 T good gin (I used Breuckelen Gin with lots of juniper and herbs)
12 sections of tangerine or 8 of oranges
Port Wine Sauce*
Potato chips (then still called Saratoga chips)
Wipe the birds with a paper towel. Pour the gin carefully over the birds and inside them and rub a drop of Petit Grain essence on the inside as well.
Salt and pepper them inside and out and then stuff the birds with the tangerine or orange sections. Add a touch more gin inside the birds.
Heat the oven to 400º
Sauté the birds for about 25 minutes, turning frequently until browned. You can do this step an hour in advance -- the birds are best if they cool down a bit before you roast them.
Put in the oven for another 10 -12 minutes for a bird that's medium-medium well.
Serve with Port Wine sauce and homemade or kettle cooked chips.
½ c port (ruby or vintage –– Rare Wine Co. has some spectacular ports if you want to do it up right)
1 t shallot½ t thyme or small sprig
juice of 1 orange
¼ orange zest
few drops of lemon juice
salt and cayenne to taste
¼ c veal demi glace
¼ c water
1 ½ t flour
Reduce the port to ¼ cup. Add the shallot, thyme, orange zest and orange and lemon juice with salt and cayenne and cook for a few minutes. Add the veal stock and water and the flour stirred into a tablespoon or 2 of water. Cook for about 5 minutes then strain into sauceboat.