Painter only took inspiration from London Zoo animals for works of African big cats

Herbert Dicksee's etchings

Herbert Dicksee's etchings - Credit: Archant

Although he never travelled to Africa or the Far East, Edwardian animal painter Herbert Dicksee was famed for his depiction of wild cats.

Herbert Dicksee's etchings

Herbert Dicksee's etchings - Credit: Archant

One of the first to capture powerful and realistic images of rampant lions and snarling tigers, the Hampstead artist studied his subjects in captivity at London Zoo.

With prices ranging from £1,500 to £7,000, 25 of his black and white etchings can be bought at the Spring Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair in Battersea Park this month and afterwards at The Park Gallery in Connaught Street.

A member of a talented family of painters, Dicksee (1862–1942) grew up in an age which witnessed the opening up of the African continent and expansion of colonial power in India and Burma.

He became fascinated by wild animals and would spend hours at London Zoo which was conveniently near his home on the edge of the Heath.

In a 1906 article in the Windsor Magazine he describes rising at 6am “to visit the Zoological Gardens before visitors

could arrive and obstruct his view.

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“There he would be seen, morning after morning, making sketches of the lions and tigers in the reposeful intervals of their restless movements”.

With the help of the keepers, Dicksee used various ruses to persuade the animals to adopt the natural poses he needed.

Early photographs of African scenery taken during the Boer war enabled him to add authenticity to his backgrounds.

Specialist print and picture dealer, Nicholas Price, who is selling the prints said: “Few artists have been able to capture the incredible majesty of lions, tigers and other big cats of the world like Herbert Dicksee.

“He was a naturally gifted draughtsman and a master of the art of etching. His etchings were produced to a remarkably high standard and combine both meticulous observation and detail.

“The result is both impressive and seemingly effortless.”

Dicksee’s pictures were drawn from life without the assistance of photographs or a zoom lens.

Prior to the discovery of close-up photography, artists would

often have to pose a stuffed animal in a studio setting.

The expansion of London Zoo was a godsend to an artist like Dicksee and it is no surprise that he was eventually elected a fellow of ZSL.

After Dicksee’s death in 1942, his daughter Dorothy was directed to destroy most of the plates for her father’s etchings.

This explains the scarcity of supply and the importance of

this large assemblage of his work.

Many of the engravings offered for sale here were artist proofs and remained in the possession of the Dicksee family until now.

The Decorative Antiques and Textiles Fair runs April 19-24

The exhibition moves to The Park Gallery from April 26.