The National Gallery of Ireland presents an exhibition of animal drawings and paintings by Dutch artist Frans Post (1612–1680)

Frans Post (1612-1680), Jaguar. © Noord-Hollands Archief, Haarlem
Frans Post (1612-1680), Jaguar. © Noord-Hollands Archief, Haarlem

Curious Creatures: Frans Post & Brazil to open at National Gallery of Ireland

For the first time in Ireland, the Gallery presents an exhibition of animal drawings and paintings by Dutch artist Frans Post (1612–1680).

Post spent seven years in Brazil, from 1637 to 1644, where he documented the plants and animals of the Dutch colony for its Governor-general Johan Maurits (1604–1679). The show includes a fascinating collection of Post’s unsigned drawings, which lay in a Haarlem archive for over three centuries before being rediscovered in 2010. 

Brazil continued to inspire Post after his return to the Netherlands, in 1644, where he produced and sold Brazilian-themed landscapes featuring many animals that correspond to the drawings in the exhibition. Curious Creatures – Frans Post & Brazil will include two key paintings by Post. A complementary display of specimens, on loan from the Natural History Museum, will allow visitors to see animals that feature in the artworks.

An extraordinary discovery was made in 2010 by Dr Alexander de Bruin of the Noord-Hollands Archief–a Dutch archive–in Haarlem, during an inventory of its holdings. It was long suspected that Post based his Brazilian landscape paintings on original drawings of flora and fauna. However, until this recent discovery, not a single animal or plant study from his hand was known. Many of the animals depicted in this cache of rediscovered drawings also clearly relate to those animals portrayed in his paintings. 

Curious Creatures – Frans Post & Brazil will showcase these 34 previously unknown animal studies. The drawings on display include depictions of a white-lipped peccary, a porcupine, a giant anteater, a sloth and a water opossum. The drawings within this collection include both graphite studies and more finished gouaches of such animals as a South American tapir, a jaguar, a neon flying squid with its tentacles, an alpaca or llama, and a cayman. 

In relation to these rediscovered drawings, exhibition curator Niamh MacNally said: “This cache of animal drawings provides the missing link between Post’s seven-year Brazilian adventure and the paintings replete with exotic creatures that he produced on his return to Haarlem. The studies, in particular the finished gouaches, include amusing inscriptions which note the size, friendliness, dangers, and edibility of the creatures depicted. To make sense of these ‘curious creatures’, some of the inscriptions draw comparisons with Dutch animals. Such observations offer a glimpse into the astonishment that the artist must have felt on encountering these strange species for the first time.”

Post’s animal drawings will be complemented by three of the artist’s key works: his masterpiece, View of Olinda, Brazil, 1662 (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam); an important autograph drawing of a Sugar Mill (Atlas Van Stolk, Rotterdam); and the Gallery’s own oil painting Brazilian Landscape with Sugar Mill, 1660s (NGI.847). These works give an insight into how the artist both engaged with and immortalized the New World for a curious European audience.

Niamh MacNally added: “The Gallery’s painting includes the highest number of animals corresponding to those appearing in Post’s recently found drawings – nine in total. In the foreground, a plethora of animals including an alligator, armadillos, anteaters and a monkey are depicted. Regarded as one of the richest displays of exotic animals in any seventeenth-century European oil painting, our work has been described as a ‘Noah’s Ark’ by Frans Post scholars Pedro and Bia Corrêa do Lagos.“

Public programming will include workshops, lectures, and events, all of which will encourage families and schools to learn more about Brazil and its culture, and to sketch and discover the different animals represented in the exhibition.

This display will be complemented by a small exhibition catalogue.

8 September–9 December 2018
Admission free


Previous exhibitions
The rediscovered drawings of Frans Post were shown for the first time in the exhibition Frans Post. Animals in Brazil (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 7 October 2016 to 8 January 2017), in collaboration with Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden.