That Time the Prince of Monaco Met Buffalo Bill
When Paris’s Musée de La Chasse et de la Nature (Museum of Hunting and Nature) opens its spring exhibition series on March 30, one of its biggest lenders will be none other than the princely house of Grimaldi, otherwise known as the current rulers of Monaco.
"Un Prince à la Chasse" (“A Prince on the Hunt”) comprises 30 paintings and close to 50 photographs in chronicling the two-decade-long hunting and fishing exploits of Albert I of Monaco, the enlightened and apparently adventurous ruler of the tiny Mediterranean principality from 1889 until 1922.
While most contemporary museum shows—including the Musée de La Chasse’s concurrent exhibition, "Safaris"—place some emphasis on the (art-)historical merits of their subject matter, the main draw of Un Prince à la Chasse seems to be the novelty of a European ruler boldly conquering the wilds of North America at roughly the same time that the Woolworth Building was topping off at 57 floors.
“He went on shooting trips to Yellowstone, where he met Buffalo Bill,” said Claude d’Anthenaise, the museum’s director. “He went to Canada to shoot elk, and a particularly interesting painting shows him hunting whales because he was especially interested in sea animals.”
While many of the prince’s contemporaries were also interested in the natural sciences, few expressed their interest by hunting down and killing their subjects. Fewer still had a retinue as they did so.
“There weren’t so many, less than 10 people,” said d’Anthenaise. “Two or three scientists, a few servants,” and the artist Louis Tinayre, whose paintings of the prince on horseback, on his yacht (from which he hunted those whales), and even on foot, standing contemplatively next to what appears to be a dead mountain goat, comprise all the paintings in the show.
While the subject matter is often gruesome, it is relatively standard fare for the Musée de la Chasse. Founded in the 1960s by François Sommer, a French industrialist who made his fortune with carpet factories, the museum is housed in a lovely 17th century mansion in the center of Paris’s Marais district. Its mission is to exhibit “the relationship between humans and animals through the ages,” which, until very recently, almost exclusively entailed the former killing the latter.
The museum is designed to look like a lavish private home; silk-wallpapered rooms are filled with tapestries, taxidermy, and cabinets of weapons and other curiosities. “We tried to keep the spirit of the place like a private house museum,” said d’Anthenaise. “It’s like you’re visiting the home of a private collector.”
The Prince à la Chasse show fits right in. Many of the paintings were taken directly from the Château de Marchais, the Grimaldi family’s shooting estate in France, while others were lent by Monaco’s Oceanographic Museum.
D’Anthenaise imagines that the show, like the museum, will attract more art lovers than hunters.
“It’s seems odd, but hunters aren’t our most important group of visitors,” he said. “I think they prefer being in the countryside, rather than museums.”