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artrepublic's Best Birds

Artists throughout history have drawn inspiration from birds. They have been used to symbolize all manner of ideas, as well as being beautiful, colourful entities in themselves. We take a look at some of the best ornithological creations at artrepublic...

Gemma Compton 'Easy Target', Adam Bridgland 'You Stole My Heart', James Bates 'Kinetic Bird'

Bird imagery can be traced from the cave paintings of the Paleolithic era to the present day, and across all world cultures.  The oldest reputed artistic representation of birds or parts of birds is a prehistoric bird-headed man dating from 15,000 to 10,000 B.C. painted on one of the walls of the treasure-house of Stone Age art, Lascaux Cave in France

Ancient Egyptians considered birds ‘winged souls’ and would use them to symbolize particular gods. Goldfinches appeared commonly in illuminated manuscripts in the Middle Ages, and Byzantine, Gothic and Early Renaissance paintings are rich in philosophical and Christian symbolism regarding birds. 

Birds have long been a favourite motif in Japanese painting and oriental art. They are linked with specific seasons and interpreted as reflections of human emotions and qualities. Prints by artists such as Utagawa Hiroshige, Iksel, and Katsushika Hokusai reflected Buddhist teachings that people should try to achieve harmony with nature.

Surrealist artist Max Ernst developed a deep fascination with birds, which became prevalent in his art. Ernst’s alter ego was a bird called Loplop. He suggested that this alter-ego was an extension of himself stemming from an early confusion of birds and humans. He said that one night when he was young he woke up and found that his beloved pet cockatoo had died, and a few minutes later his father announced that his sister was born. Bird imagery became an important part of Ernst’s paintings and collages beginning as early as his participation in the Dada movement before 1920. 

Another Surrealist artist, Belgian painter René Magritte, transformed and juxtaposed every day things to challenge observes’ preconditioned perceptions of reality. He painted leaves transformed into birds, their stalks into perches, and several variations of the silhouette of a bird resembling a dove with its body filled with clouds. Perhaps his most famous bird painting is ‘L’Homme au Chapeau Melon’, which depicts a white bird concealing the face of a man.

There is a surreal element to Penelope Kenny’s beautiful metamorphic moth-birds. Birds feature heavily in her work which explores the relationship between humans and other animals, especially in connection to evolution, hybrids and biotechnology. 

Henri Matisse also had a passion for birds, especially doves, which is equally evident in his art. Apparently his interest was sparked in 1936, when he was in Paris strolling along the banks of the river Seine and his attention was drawn to the merchants selling a variety of caged song birds and doves. Matisse would return home with five or six birds at a time and delighted in their shapes and colours. He gave Picasso, who also loved birds and had canaries and pigeons of his own, the last of his fancy pigeons. Picasso drew its portrait on the famous print ‘Dove of Peace’. 

Picasso’s ‘Dove of Peace’ has recently been reinterpreted by the contemporary artist Chemical X.  His controversial ‘Dove of Peace’ is created from detailed images of life-sized ecstasy tablets.

The Parisian bird market which is still held every Sunday near the Notre Dame was the subject of a charming Miroslav Sasek illustration 'Bird Market' for his 1959 book ‘This is Paris’. The godfather of British Pop art, Sir Peter Blake, similarly features birds in his portrait of the French captial. 'Birds' is a magnificent print from his Paris series which captures the joie de vivre and spirit of bohemianism that pervades in the city. Blake's ornate collage juxtaposes the best of Parisian architecture with an electic selection of beautiful bird illustrations. 

Birds have captured the curiosity and intrigue of Brighton based artist Kelly Sweeney. Her array of pen and ink feathered creatures reflect her fascination with detail and decoration. 

For many more feathery prints, from museum classics to contemporary limited edition giclees, explore our prints pages and follow our tweets

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