Fables, or animals with tales, are short stories that date to ancient times. The two-thousand-five-hundred-year-old animal fables of the Greek slave Aesop are still heard today. Often moralizing or satirizing, the stories are told by animals who speak. Contemporary fables include Charlotte’s Web, 1952, by E.B.White and George Orwell’s 1945 political fable Animal Farm. Fables with talking animals remain popular in movies today with The Lion King, The Chronicles of Narnia, or Guardians of the Galaxy. Cedarhurst’s permanent collection features works of art with animals as key characters.
LEFT: JOEL B. FELDMAN, Fox with Carved Head (Aesop’s Fables), 1995, woodcut, Gift of Jack and Joan Goldman, 2000.01
Tension mounts as the Fox stares in contemplation of the Carved Head. Aesop’s fable goes like this:
“As a fox was rummaging among a great many carved figures, there was one very extraordinary artwork among the rest. The fox stared at it for a while, and when he had thoroughly considered it, said, ‘Well, what pity ‘tis, that so exquisite an outside of a head should not have one grain of sense in’t. It is not the barber or the tailor that makes the man, and ‘tis no new thing to see a fine wrought head without so much as one grain of salt in’t.’”
We might say today, “don’t judge a book by its cover” or “beauty is only skin deep.”
RIGHT: EUGENE HIGGINS, Kansas City, MO (1874-1958), The Philosopher, c.1917, Oil on canvas, Gift of John R. and Eleanor R. Mitchell, 1973.1.24
Higgins is considered a member of the Ashcan School as are George Bellows and Edward Hopper.
Here, Higgins constructs a mythological tale creating an ambiguity between the painting’s two potential protagonists leaving for the viewer to determine which one is the philosopher.