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Monday, November 26, 2018

Rabbit Art

Rabbit Spread, 1989, Ditz
Every couple months I feature some animal favored by artists, which has some degree of following among collectors. In choosing rabbits, I debated as to whether to wait until what amounts to the international holiday devoted to the long-eared mammal (Easter), or to feature them now. In my mind, at least, Thanksgiving is the holiday more common associated with such creatures. When my mother's kin used to get together each year to celebrate our national day devoted to giving thanks, turkey, and football, the thankful menfolk took the opportunity to go rabbit hunting after the big meal (kids weren't invited). I can only recall once when my dad took me hunting (for squirrels). He said "never again." He complained I talked too much. I presume that, given their prominent ears, rabbits could sense my presence on the prowl even better than squirrels. Let's face it, despite their cute and cuddly appearance as depicted by artists, rabbits are, for both man and beasts, animals of prey.

The rabbit as a gift in courtship, c. 480 BC
18th-century vintage rabbit clipart.
As is often the case, especially for animals fairly low on the food chain, rabbits have a long history with artists. I don't know if cavemen depicted rabbit hunting, but at least as far back as the ancient Greeks, rabbits have had their place in art. The Greeks (and others) saw the prolific breeding bunnies as fertility symbols. The Greek men some-times gave them as romantic gifts to young men and boys who caught their fancy (above). In more recent times, quite apart from any symbolic sexual association, the one artist most responsible for his depictions of rabbits (or hares) was the German painter and etcher, Albrecht Durer. Two examples (below) have inspire imitators now for centuries. Compare them to some of the works by others seen here.

Dürer's watercolor should be seen in the context of his other nature studies, such as his almost equally famous Meadow or his Bird Wings.
Copyright, Jim Lane
Hans Hoffmann, as seen in his A Hare in the Forest (below), from 1585, owes a debt of gratitude to Durer. Born in 1530, the German painter and draftsman was a leading represen-tative of the Dürer Renaissance. He specialized in watercolor and gouache nature studies, many of them copied from or based on Dürer's work. Although I've painted very few rabbits over the years (only one that I can recall), my own Harey (right) dates all the way beck to 1978. I only just now realized how much it bears a startling re-semblance to Durer's model.

      Harey, 1978, Jim Lane.
A Hare in the Forest from a Durer Drawing, 1585, Hans Hoffmann.
During the 19th-century, rabbit art gained greatly in popularity, not because of their breeding habits or as hunter's prey, but through the literary efforts of writers such as English author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. Carroll's novel, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was first published in 1865. Its opening line, "Alice was beginning to grow very tired sitting with her sister by the river bank, . . . until she saw a White Rabbit with a waist coat and a pocket watch!" Quite apart from popularizing Victorian "bunny art" (below), Carrol's ambassador to one of history's greatest examples of literary nonsense has inspired artists, illustrators, and Walt Disney for generations.

Feeding the Rabbits, circa 1904, Frederick Morgan. Although having nothing to do with the book, the painting has also come to be known as "Alice in Wonderland."
Disney led the rabbit (or should I say "rabid") art-lovers crusade for much of 20th-century, not just with Alice and the White Rabbit (1951), but we must not forget Carrol's equally famous March Hare (below). Then there's Bambi's friend, Thumper, and the adult oriented Roger Rabbit, (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?), though Disney was only one of several players in the production of that $30-million cinematic extravaganza. The 1988 film featured Hollywood idols from the past, both human and animated. Noticeably absent was Warner Bros. Bugs Bunny of Looney Tunes fame.

Disney's rabbit pair, second only to Mickey Mouse in theme part popularity.
Forest Bunny, Marion Rose

No, he's not a cartoon character,
but maybe he should be.


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