‘And has not art promoted our work also?’

Visual culture in animal–human history

Authored by: J. Keri Cronin

The Routledge Companion to Animal–Human History

Print publication date:  September  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138193260
eBook ISBN: 9780429468933
Adobe ISBN:


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In October 1887 the editors of The Animal World, the official publication of Britain’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), published a lengthy article reviewing and reflecting upon many of the artworks exhibited at the annual Royal Academy exhibition at Burlington House in London. 1 While twenty-first century readers may find it somewhat strange that an animal advocacy publication would dedicate so much space to reviewing art, this was in fact not that unusual for nineteenth-century audiences. There are many important links between art and animal advocacy during this era, as those involved with organised animal advocacy saw tremendous potential for art to foster a sense of kindness and compassion in viewers and to challenge the status quo when it came to cruel treatment of animals. ‘Noble men who devote themselves to the high calling of art’, the writer for The Animal World opined, ‘are teachers and prophets, whose influence is not less than that of philosophers, statesmen, and divines’. 2 Specific to the context of animal advocacy, the reviewer asked, ‘and has not art promoted our work also?’:

The pencils of old masters, and those of a hundred modern animal painters, among whom Landseer will ever be prominent, have taught us to love animals, and when we cannot love, to be in sympathy with them as fellow creatures. The walls of the Academy year after year keep up this theme, and delineate particularly man’s companionship with animals. 3

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