Thursday, March 6, 2014


Clara’s portrait was lost for 150 years.  Jean-Baptiste Oudry, a painter of animals, had met Clara at a fun-fair in Paris in 1749.  After he painted a life-size portrait of her (3,10 × 4,56 m), she became famous and some thought Clara was more captivating than the queen herself.
One hundred years later, the painting was rolled up and put it in the basement of a castle in Germany.  It was forgotten until 13 years ago, when two museum guys went down to the basement of that castle and discovered a large roll of fabric.  Was it a long lost treasure map or something else even more valuable?  When they unrolled it, they were surprised to discover that it was Clara’s portrait, a bit battered but still gorgeous, so they decided to send the painting to California to be repaired.


Those eyes, that nose, those lovely stubby legs!  She weighed 5,000 pounds, about the same as a large SUV.  What’s not to love?
Who is Clara?
Born in India in 1738, Clara the rhinoceros was one month old when her parents died and a man called Jan took her to his house and kept her as a pet.  She ate from porcelain plates at the table and was allowed everywhere in the house until she grew to be too big for his house.
Clara was sweet and not dangerous at all.  A Dutchman, Douwe Mout, took her on his ship to his native Holland. Clara was always hungry; she loved hay, oranges and beer. 


Very few people in Europe had seen a rhinoceros, so Douwe took her on a tour.  They made a porcelain Clara, all shiny and smooth. They made clocks, coins, prints and wrote poems and songs about her. Fashionable Parisian ladies went nuts: They wore Clara wigs and ribbons in their hair à la rhinoceros. Clara was the most famous young lady in Europe!  
King Louis invited her to stay for five months in his private zoo at his palace of Versailles. 
When rhinos live in captivity they sometimes rub off their horns.  It's a mystery who has her horn now, perhaps Douwe kept it for himself. 


Oudry made the drawing of Clara at the fair in Paris.
In the studio:
He has 4 pieces of fabrics sewn together vertically to make the canvas.
He paints the background: the first layer deep red, then beige.
He outlines Clara’s ample form in thin oil paint.
He builds layers of paint and glazing.
At the end he puts finishing touches and paints those wisps of hair around the ears!

Do you love Clara’s portrait?
Rhinos can't see very well but their hearing is excellent. She is looking at you and listening to you. What do you want to whisper in her ear?
Does she look intelligent?
Do you want to pet her and feel her skin?
Look at her face in the drawing and the finished painting.   What differences do you see in her face?

Would you like to have a pet rhino?  Perhaps you could draw Clara instead … Everyone would love it!


Clara painting: Oil on canvas, 310 × 456 cmStaatliches Museum Schwerin
Drawing:  Signed, Black chalk heightened with white on blue paper, 10 7/8 x 17 1/2 inches, British Museum, London
Clara Lost her Horn:  Oil on canvas, 60.4 x 47 cm, The National Gallery, London

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