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Le Physale Cylindrique

Date: 1839
Overall: 335 x 407 mm, 0.24 kg
Medium: Ink on paper, watercolour
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Lithograph
Object No: 00019673
Place Manufactured:Paris

User Terms

    The event of a stranded whale has always stimulated public interest. This fanciful print shows a group of well-dressed 19th century French citizens inspecting a Sperm whale beached on a rocky shore. In the 1800s whales generated public fascination because they were mysterious animals, not well understood or studied. Drawings such as this provided the public with an opportunity to view the mythical creature.
    SignificanceThis print is representative of the public fascination with whales in the 19th century.
    HistoryKnowledge of whales by European culture and science was an evolving process. The earliest drawings of the animal show a mythical monster-like creature with horns spouting water. Natural history artists were largely unable to draw from life and instead used descriptions given by explorers, scientists and publishers. Many of their works were copied from earlier drawings and offered only slightly different interpretations of the previous studies. By the 19th century artists were increasingly providing more faithful depictions and moving away from the mythical depiction of whales.

    The Sperm whale is often recognised by its large squared-off head and it is the largest of all the toothed whales. It frequents all the worlds’ oceans and can dive to depths of 1000 metres in search of squid and fish. Sperm Whales become synonymous with Herman Melville's book Moby Dick which perpetuated the image of the whale as a fearsome and aggressive creature. Whaling during the 18th and 19th century seriously impacted Sperm Whale numbers and though they have since recovered they are currently listed as endangered. Sperm whales provided oil for domestic use in candles, lamps, while the waxy substance of ambergris was used in perfumes.
    Additional Titles

    Web title: Le Physale Cylindrique

    Primary title: Le Physale Cylindrique

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