Cascading behind the lace curtains is a winding white tunnel where special lighting makes it appear like a forest. The tigers, leopards and lions depicted are either viciously displaying their claws or lying on the floor, appearing as tame as house cats. What I am describing here are paintings by Robert Dallet, oil and watercolor works that illustrate different wildcats in their respective habitats. They are so detailed that viewers can see their skin textures and the direction of their fur growth. Even the texture of leaves in the background is included, tempting one to stare at his pieces for a long time.
Robert Dallet was born in 1923 and grew up on a farm in the northwestern region of France. He was passionate about drawing ever since he was young, and he loved visiting zoos and museums. He could stand in front of an animal and stare at it for hours as he recorded their gestures in his sketchbook. His love for big cats started when he first saw a margay, and he became devoted to these animals for a large part of his life. “Once I returned home, the image continued to haunt me for several days,” he explained. “The only way to stop thinking about it was to draw it, to paint its portrait. And to do this, I had to study the environment it lived in… and there I discovered many other felines. So I did the first portrait of the margay, and then I did one of the ocelot, and then all the felines of South America.”
The first feline that appeared in the world was in the Oligocene epoch. It lived on earth long before humans appeared and its habitat covered a third of the planet’s surface. Reasonably referred to as the guardians of land, these felines did not only act as indicators of the health of the earth; they were also a key component to the completion of the ecosystem. They were linked to the lives of all other animals — including humans, of course. No species on earth can survive independently and the unique characteristics of the earth’s species and the environment make us all interdependent.
Due to various the impact of humans, however, the population of big cats in the world has been gradually decreasing. Illegal wildlife trade, land and agricultural development, and the hunting of their natural prey have forced big cats to hunt livestock. Ironically, they are then often killed by humans in retaliation for preying on livestock. This has grown into a vicious hunting cycle, which is exactly what Robert Dallet did not want to see. This is the reason his lifelong dream has been to get more people to know about big cats, and to encourage them to join him in the protection of these animals.
Robert Dallet的藝術沒有使用艱澀的語言，甚至直白非常，大概因為同時兼具自然學家的身份，早就練成紮實的科學根基，卻能以作畫形式表達他的信念，讓更多人看見殘酷事實，更能理解到野生貓科動物的可貴。自1980年代中期，Robert Dallet與Hermès開展了長期合作關係，遂此創作過多款絲巾圖案，當中的經典作有2000年的「叢林之愛」 (Jungle Love)、2012年的「貓般柔情」(Tendresse féline) 及Les Tigreaux，全以貓科動物為主題，除了勇捍一面，更多是像大部份其他生物一樣，會有感情，會相依偎。從此他的受眾便由藝術層面托展至時尚界。
The art of Robert Dallet does not speak an incomprehensible language. Rather, it is very straightforward. This is probably because he is a naturalist who has built for himself a strong scientific foundation, but finds it more natural to express himself through painting. He uses this medium to reveal the real, brutal facts of what is happening, so that more people can realize the value of wildcats. Since the mid-1980s, Robert Dallet and Hermès have maintained a long-term relationship by creating different scarf designs. This includes their classic “Jungle Love” from 2000, and “Tendresse Féline” and “Les Tigreaux” from 2012, all of which are based on felines. Besides displaying their fearless nature, Dallet also depicts their emotional and “snuggly” side, making them more relatable. Since then, his supporters have expanded their interests from art to the fashion domain.
而有著相同理念的美國全球野生大型貓科動物保護協會Panthera，則以科學方法保護野生貓科動物。他們聚集全球首屈一指的生物學家，進行各種研究與分析，探究38種野生貓科動物與其生態系統、其獵物與面臨的生命威脅，再使用數據來塑造和實施合適的保護行動，希望能讓牠們從瀕危物種的絕境中拯救出來。Hermès的全球藝術總監Pierre-Alexis Dumas與Panthera創始人Thomas S. Kaplan更共同創立了以Robert Dallet命名的野生貓科動物保育計劃。這所有事的發展就像在驗證吸引力法則，讓不同個體連成一個圈子，繼續壯大這個「保衛聯盟」。
Using the same concept, America’s global wildcat conservation organization, Panthera, has been coming up with scientific methods to protect wildcats. They have gathered the world’s leading biologists to conduct various kinds of research and analysis, and have investigated the ecosystems and prey of 38 kinds of wildcats, as well as the threats to them. They then used this data to shape and implement the appropriate wildcat conservation initiatives, hoping to save these endangered species from further population reduction. Recently, Pierre-Alexis Dumas, global artistic director of Hermès and Thomas S. Kaplan, founder of Panthera, partnered to create the Robert Dallet Wild Cat Conservation project. It’s evident that, thanks to various interconnected interests, different individuals have gathered and formed a kind of natural defense alliance.
This year marks the 10th year anniversary of Robert Dallet’s death, and it is also the 10th anniversary of the establishment of Panthera. For this occasion, Hermès decided to host the “Fierce and Fragile” exhibition, which used focused on the world’s most iconic big cats. Included among them were the clouded leopard, jaguar, puma, tiger, lion, leopard, cheetah and the snow leopard. Totaling 60 originals, all of these works are now being exhibited in Hong Kong for the first time, and apart from the oil and watercolor works mentioned, there is also a large number of sketches from the Émile Hermès museum and the private collection of Robert Dallet’s family. These rare pieces have traveled across New York, Milan and Munich, with Hong Kong as the fourth stop of this exhibition.
Visitors will see, upon first glance, that the exhibition space is filled with Prussian blue. One notable part of the exhibition is a special installation that forces the viewer to see the painting through a hole, creating the feeling of peeping at something. Whether or not this is coincidental or a deliberate act by the host, I think this detail fits perfectly well with the message of the exhibition. Most of us think that the issue of animal conservation isn’t something we can impact, since we are physically removed from these natural habitats. Yet, by peeking through the hole and learning about the problems happening on our planet, one will understand that the horrors happening in this world are largely caused by humans and closer to us than we might think. After seeing this exhibition, I realized that the existence of these animals has become increasingly fragile due to the global environmental changes we all face, and this has made these animals become as weak as we are.
Perhaps by doing we that we are capable of doing, we can unite the world just a little bit more. Robert Dallet started off alone too, but the seeds that he sowed have grown into something that can last for a lifetime. This enthusiasm holds a power which is hard to ignore. This exhibition, in particular, is an extension of Robert Dallet’s lifelong love for big cats, and each of his paintings are real records of the time and emotion that he devoted to this subject over his career.
Fierce and Fragile – Big Cats in the Art of Robert Dallet
Level L1, Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Hong Kong
7 to 24 September 2016
Monday to Sunday 11am until 8pm
After I visit an exhibition, I invariably want to own the great works on display. Most of the time, they are not for sale or are too expensive. Other times, I feel it would be a waste to keep them at home. This is why I have an obsession with collecting exhibition souvenirs instead, including postcards or booklets. This time, we have selected several products by Hermès that are related to Robert Dallet’s work and should sooth such an obsession.
For Robert Dallet, the sight of jaguars, macaws and impalas walking through the emerald landscape was very soothing. Seeing these animals live freely is a happy scene on its own. This set of Carnets d’Equateur ceramic tableware transports this happiness to your tabletop. The series includes the painter’s realistic gouache paintings, as well as his pencil sketches. Elegantly printed on white porcelain and celadon, each of them is embellished with a matte 24k gold rim, making it a low-key, yet gorgeous series.
說起Hermès很難想不起他們家的絲巾。這來自AW16 Silk Collection，張開是一大幅無上色的大貓圖畫，蒐集了30幅黑色墨水畫，於淡淡天藍色背景襯托下，畫面簡單卻不單調，正如Robert Dallet一直以幾樣最簡單的「工具」開始創作 —— 眼睛、雙手和鉛筆，然後「Draws a sensitive portrait of lives in the wild that man can only marvel at」。原作同樣是Robert Dallet家族的珍藏。
It is hard not to mention scarves when we talk about Hermès. This one is from the Autumn/Winter 2016 Silk Collection featuring 30 ink drawings of big cats in black and white. When matched with the pale blue sky, the drawings do not appear boring at all. Robert Dallet always used the most simple tools to create — including his eyes, hands and pencils — and drew sensitive portraits of “lives in the wild that man can only marvel at.” The original works belong to Robert Dallet’s family’s private collection.
Hermès and French publisher, Actes Sud, have a history of creating high-quality prints together, and they have worked together again this time to release an art book for the exhibition. Titled Fierce and Fragile, this 120-page book does not only record the drawings of the eight most iconic big cats, but also includes the different scarf patterns and the original sketches that Dallet created for Hermès. This is a very rare record of the painter, so it is definitely a collectible treasure for your bookshelf.