As you walk towards the famous Parisian art gallery, the Musee D’Orsay, you might be surprised to find yourself face to face with a gigantic rhinoceros.
The sculpture portrays the Indian rhino, also known as the Great one-horned rhino. At the time of the sculpture’s creation, this species was native to several countries including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Burma. Today, however, the rhinoceros is an endangered species and extinct across many regions where it once roamed. This is largely due to habitat loss, historic overhunting by European trophy hunters and ongoing illegal poaching for use in traditional Chinese medicine.
Curiously, there is a long history of the portrayal of the rhinoceros in French art that stretches as far back in time as the Ice age. The extinct wooly rhinoceros was an animal that was native to the territory now known as France thousands of years ago, and images of this beast appear in numerous Prehistoric paintings at caves such as Lascaux, Chauvet, and Rouffignac.
This particular rhinoceros sculpture was created by the celebrated artist, Henri-Alfred Jacquemart, and was shown at the World Fair in 1878. By profession, Jacquemart was an “Animalier” a term used for a sculptor who specializes in the sculpting of animals. During the 19th century, the works of Animaliers were in high demand and were displayed in galleries, parks and in the private homes and gardens of the wealthy. It was a time of the expansion of European empires across the world and exploration that fed a curiosity and vogue for everything “exotic” including the animals of distant lands.
After studying in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Jacquemart embarked on a particularly successful career and produced many bronze sculptures of animals which were shown at exhibitions and won him numerous awards and medals. Many of these masterpieces, like the rhino, are now displayed in public areas and can be seen and appreciated in the many parks, galleries, museums, and squares of Paris.
Know Before You Go
The rhino is easy to find as it is located in the street directly outside the Musee D'Orsay in Paris.