There is something about monkeys that people find irresistible. Have you ever noticed how often they appear in art, both fine and decorative? Did you know that there is a term for specifically for it? If you have studied art history you probably know that it is singerie, from the French word “singe” meaning monkey. I have always loved these depictions and actually went through a “monkey” phase, which is when I purchased these playful candlesticks.
Monkeys have been used by artists for mocking, mirroring and expressing man’s ways for centuries. One blog post could not do justice to this fascinating topic but I felt the urge to conjure up a little homage to our furry friends. Monkeys appeared in art from the beginning starting with the Greeks and Egyptians who, in general, held a less than favorable opinion of the creature. This continued through the Middle Ages as monkeys were often placed in Eden, symbolizing a human gone bad, who has given into sin. A perfect example is here in this page from Verard Antoine’s book “La Bible en Francoys” from 1500 where the apple-eating monkey is assisting the serpent in tempting Adam and Eve.
But Singerie per se didn’t come into its own until the French rococo, the most amazing example probably that of Christophe Huet’s Grande Singerie at the chateau de Chantilly. Painted in 1735 for the Duke of Bourbon, Louis-Henri de Condé, the reception rooms at the palace depict allegorical designs of monkeys, in mostly mandarin attire, pursuing activities of everyday life in a satirical manner. Three years ago, the Institute of France, which owns the chateau, finished restoring the room. The repairs cost $1 million and were possible due the generosity of the Aga Khan, who lived nearby and matched the World Monuments Fund in Europe’s $500,000 to undertake the project.
photo courtesy of culture.gouv.fr
Here is a detail from one of the panels
photo: © Neue Zürcher Zeitung AG
Unlike the Grande Singerie, the paintings in the Petite Singerie, in the private section of the chateau, show the monkeys in French costumes, engaged in more aristocratic activities indicated by the names of the panels such as “The Card Game, “The Promenade on Ice” and “The Toilette”.
If you are interested in learning more about Huet, there is a book devoted entirely to his work. This is the second edition which has an August release date.
Singerie appeared in other decorative arts as well. Take for example this fabulous rococo Meissen Monkey Band, ca. 1740. It includes twenty-four pieces of fashionably attired monkeys made by Johann Joachim Kandler, the master modeler at Meissen for more than forty years.
courtesy of RISD museum
These 2 charming fellows, obviously from a similar Dresden group, brought $1,32oo at auction four years ago at Cowan’s Auctions in Cincinnati.
The rage for chinoiserie, which had inspired the rococo’s vision, continued. It became associated with images of paradise where monkeys had a more positive connotation and then translated to other non exotic idyllic locations as well, as seen here in Henri Rousseau’s Tropical Forest with Monkeys.
Frida Kahlo’s art depicted monkeys as protective caring creatures.
Monkeys have continued to be popular subjects by many contemporary artists as well.
If you are or have become after this post a fan of monkeys, there are many ways you can incorporate them into the more decorative aspects of your life. I’ve always loved Pierre Frey’s Singerie – such a charming fabric.
This Austrian early 20th century monkey head humidor could be the perfect accessory for a difficult to buy for cigar-smoking man in your life.
And to give you an idea the popularity of monkeys, this Minton majolica monkey garden seat sold at Christie’s last year for $15,550, above the upper limits of the estimate.
But this French 19th century monkey majolica pitcher is still available at 1stdibs
The fun stationer Iomoi also has several simian offerings. This hand sculpted monkey will hold your business cards in style.
And these adorable coasters would make a great hostess gift for any upcoming invites!
Start your baby off in style with this charming Vera Wang Joyful Monkey birth announcement or birthday card. It’s sure to bring a smile.
And for the over 21 crowd, this boxed note set of a brown gin monkey from The Printery could be a chic signature card.
Use their whimsical gold fancy monkey place cards for an informal lunch or dinner.
Similarly, the Monkey Marbles engraved motif from Thornwillow would add a jaunty bit of attitude to your correspondence.
William Wayne, the NYC outpost of all forms of household chic, offers their signature monkey bowl to hold anything from edibles to collectibles.
And if you’d rather wear your singerie, there’s always vintage David Webb – doesn’t get any better!!
Thanks to my blogging friend Barbara at My Dog Eared Pages who sent a few of these fun images my way!