Artefact of the month - February 2007
Ernest Griset (1843-1907), who died 100 years ago, was a well-known caricaturist of the nineteenth century. His illustrations in books and satirical magazines including Punch contributed to their popularity and success.
The hallmark of Griset’s work was to base his caricatures on animals either in human guise or behaving in a human-like manner. The inspiration for these amusing figures came from Griset’s regular visits to ZSL London Zoo.
Miss Bet. 1870. Watercolour, pen and ink and pencil on paper; c52 x 85 cm.
The incident happened on a bitterly cold day in December 1870 when the Indian rhinoceros fell through the ice into a deep pond. All the available keepers were summoned to pull her out. The Zoo’s Superintendent, A.D. Bartlett (wearing a top hat) is seen directing the dangerous operation. Miss Bet survived the ordeal unharmed and died in 1873 : she had lived in the Zoo since 1850.
Griset was born in France in 1843. The family moved to England and settled in north London when Griset was young. It is not known if Griset received any formal art teaching but surviving artwork shows he had an exceptional talent for making naturalistic studies of individual animals that are full of life and marvelously observant. Luckily, he was present at some momentous events in the Zoo’s history and recorded them with his brush including the arrival of the first live penguin, the sad death of the baby hippopotamus Umzivooboo, and rescuing the hippopotamus Miss Bet from drowning. The painting of Miss Bet is one of four of Griset’s paintings held in the ZSL Library.