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While his menagerie advertisements stage the animals in the most majestic poses, his sketchbooks show them as they could be seen, as they lived – very peacefully – in the menageries of Paris.On each page, there appears a variety of resting panthers, slumping lions, sleeping jaguars and drowsy bears... Moreover, Gustave Soury excelled at portraying animals from behind and in not particularly academic but highly natural positions that must have aroused his curiosity as a sketch artist.At the turn of the 20th century, Gustave Soury was a lace painter, a profession that he exercised “conscientiously, but unenthusiastically”, as he himself put it (according to Adrian, a journalist specializing in the circus world).During his free time, he would visit the menageries of Paris where people could go to admire animals of all sorts and of every origin in their cages.
Upon his death, his archives were also bequeathed to the museum: more than 10,000 photographs and postcards, that he had organized in 31 thematic albums on funfairs and circuses, more than 600 small posters for shows performed between 18, all of his sketchbooks, the reproductions and preparatory work for the pieces he created for the menageries, circuses and other kennels that employed him.
Those sketchbooks, where he systematically noted the species of each animal, its sex, the location and often the date, were the tools of his trade first and foremost.
In them, the artist created a large number of technical studies and more or less elaborate sketches.
Animal painter seems to us to be a very booming profession, and we might wonder what outlets Gustave Soury might have found today for his talent and his passion.
It is easy to forget that, between the 1870s and the First World War, travelling menageries attracted crowds of visitors curious to see exotic, often dangerous creatures in real life.
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In his posters and other advertisements – pieces that he carefully organized – he needed to use a hand that was less free and more composed, but that also testified to his expertise.