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Zoological Gardens Day

"A Cheetah and stag with two Indian attendants", George Stubbs, 1764, Tate Modern Museum

The predecessor of the modern zoological garden is the menagerie, which has a long history from the ancient world to modern times. The oldest known zoological collection was discovered during excavations at Hierakonpolis, Egypt, of a ca. 3500 BCE menagerie. The exotic animals included hippopotami, hartebeest, elephants, baboons and wildcats! One 18th century big cat, a cheetah, has been memorialized (along with her handlers) in both painting and tartan! This female cheetah was brought to Britain as a gift for King George III by George Pigot, Governor of Madras, an enthusiastic collector of animals. Easily tamed and trained, cheetahs had been used as hunting animals by the Mogul Emperors for hundreds of years. This painting is based on an event in 1764 hosted by the Duke of Cumberland to release a cheetah with a stag in an enclosure at Windsor Great Park to observe how cheetahs pursue their prey. In the painting, Indian handlers raise the cheetah's hood, ready to release it in the direction of the stag. According to reports, the stag repulsed two attempts by the cheetah and then took to the offensive, chasing the cheetah. Cumberland gave instructions that particular care should be taken of the stag that so bravely defended himself against the cheetah, and he ordered a large silver collar to be put around the stag's head for his distinction and perpetual protection from both man and beast. The Duke eventually sent his collection of exotic animals to the Royal Menagerie at the Tower of London, including this cheetah, where "Miss Jenny" acquired her name. This tartan uses the colours the Indian flag, the home country of Miss Jenny and her handlers. 🇮🇳 🐆

From the register:


This tartan is inspired by an 18th century cheetah called Miss Jenny. She was sent as a diplomatic gift from the Governor-General of Madras to King George III, and is forever immortalised in George Stubb’s painting ‘A Cheetah and a Stag with Two Indian Attendants’ (c.1764). The white, green and orange in the tartan represent the colours of the Indian flag, the homeland of Miss Jenny.


Notes from the Tate Museum:

 

One of the many rooms at Tate Britain in London houses British animal painter George Stubbs’s painting Cheetah and a Stag with Two Indian Attendants from 1764, featuring the first cheetah brought to Britain as a gift from the Governor-General of Madras to George III in the same year. In charge of maintaining a record of animals arriving in the menageries and research collections from the colonies and during voyages undertaken by the British, it was not odd for Stubbs to have painted this cheetah that took part in a stag hunt at Windsor Great Park. The oil on canvas has an Indian raising the animal’s hood, ready to release it, as an accomplice directs its attention to a stag in an imaginary landscape. The cheetah was later moved to the menagerie at the Tower of London, where it was named Miss Jenny. 


This is one of the many works bearing an Indian context that feature in the exhibition “Artist and Empire: Facing Britain’s Imperial Past” that directly addresses art made in response to the British rule.


For more details about this painting, click Miss Jenny!