Two Leopards Playing - 1808
For popular amusement in the early nineteenth century, an array of wild beasts – from tigers to boa constrictors – was exhibited at Exeter Change, in London, a building on the north side of the Strand with an arcade where animals were kept in small cages and displayed to the curious public for educational purposes. The menagerie became a creative place where artists such as Swiss-born Jacques-Laurent Agasse (1767-1849) and poets such as Wordsworth and Byron visited frequently in order to get inspiration for their paintings and poems.
|Exeter Change - 1820 - Londo|
Exeter Change presented a unique and invaluable opportunity for Agasse, who had trained in dissection and veterinary science, to intimately observe animals in motion. “Two leopards playing” depicts the beasts languid movement, but also sympathecally represents the discomfort of their living conditions, confined to small cages and without any possibility of freely movements. For Agasse the advantages of being near the cage ' bars allowed him to demonstrates his evocative skills and a wonderful look at nature.
The two leopards appear as if captured in the middle of an intimate play. The lying female leopard’s left leg arched, suggestively against the dominant male’s belly, tells us that she is not dead or even defeated – she is still in charge of the game. The contrast between the animals’ feral flirtation and the indignity of captivity gives the painting its potent emotional charge. Agasse illustrates these tentions with characteristic physical accuracy and emotive sensitivity. Agasse’s empathy for animals and ability to represent their physical and psychological states made him renowed in Victorian England as the creator of some of the nineteenth century’s most exquisite animal studies.
Source: Wikipedia, Sara White Wilson