Death becomes them: a new taxidermy art show

Sinke and van Tongeren frame life after death

Dutch taxidermy duo Jaap Sinke and Ferry van Tongeren have lined up an absolute blinder of a show this month. Zebra, ibis, caiman, mandrill and rare hornbill are among the exotic species that will take up residence at London antiques emporium Jamb from Tuesday June 28 to Friday July 8.

This is their second show at Jamb; two years ago, owners Will and Charlotte Fisher invited the pair to hold their first exhibition, Darwin’s Menagerie, from which Damien Hirst bought a total of 38 pieces for his private Murderme Collection, leaving them with a virtually empty workshop and the chance to begin building up an entire new body of work.

Having long been influenced by the great Dutch Masters, such as Jan Weenix and Melchior d’Hondecoeter, this time the taxidermists have expanded their vision to pay homage to early natural history artists such as the American John James Audubon, whose monumental Birds of America comprised hand-coloured, life-size prints of 489 bird species. They are also particular admirers of the German Ernst Haeckel, who created beautiful, rhythmic compositions of shells, flowers and animals.

The New Masters show includes antique cabinets of rare birds, reptiles, monkeys and a series of duck heads, presented as though drawn in a sketch book from an early naturalist (example in first picture, £3,000-£75,000). This may sound grizzly, but nothing could be further from the truth. Sinke and van Tongeren are driven by their passion and admiration for the natural world, using taxidermy as a palette to express that love. As Sinke explains, “We take the beauty of nature as a starting point to add both drama and grace to classical compositions that reference historical works. Working with beautiful animals and birds is better than any paint.”

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In addition, they will also be showing some of their continuing series of taxidermic photography, Unknown Poses (example in second picture, £1,200-£9,500), which was inspired by seeing the graceful water ballet that the skins made when floating in a bath after being cleaned. These photographs have already become a big success in the Netherlands and were recently on show at Photo London.

Having worked previously as art directors in the advertising industry, Sinke and van Tongeren are also masters of display, scouring auctions for antique props that complement the creatures they so beautifully preserve. No wonder, then, they have turned to TM Lighting, which specialises in lighting artworks for museums and galleries, to collaborate with them on this aspect of the show.

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Such careful compositions elevate the pieces further still. “Ferry and Jaap’s art is magical,” says Charlotte Fisher. “It enables animals to be caught in time, so they can be enjoyed and marvelled at beyond their natural deaths.”

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