Drawing attention to big cats

It is no accident that turtles hatched at Robert Dallet’s home in southern France on the day of his funeral service any more than it’s an accident that Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization, was born the year he died.

Dallet (1923-2006) loved nature, particularly big cats. And he loved drawing and painting nature. His illustrations would serve as a muse for Hermès’ scarfs and other accessories and objets d’art for almost 20 years. Now Hermès and Panthera have joined forces to celebrate the man who devoted himself to nature’s beauty and preservation.

The Parisian luxury house and the conservation group have announced the establishment of The Robert Dallet Initiative for Wild Cat Conservation, which will not only expand, but transcend the wildlife organization’s efforts. The announcement was made at the tony press preview for Hermès’ gorgeous “Fierce and Fragile: Big Cats in the Art of Robert Dallet,” through March 13 at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich.

The initiative will be funded in part by proceeds from the sale of a charitable scarf featuring a Dallet leopard, along with one-of-a-kind items — a vase, a handbag, a tapestry, among them — inspired by Dallet’s drawings and paintings. These funds and an outreach campaign will continue to help Panthera rebuild lion populations in Africa; create the largest wildlife corridor for jaguars from Mexico to Brazil; increase the number of argalis and ibexes that serve as food sources for snow leopards in Central Asia; protect tigers from poachers in Southeast Asia and India; and end the persecution of leopards — the most beloved of the big cats by fashionistas — in part through the “Furs for Life” program that exchanges leopard skins used in religious ceremonies by South African tribes for high quality faux furs.

Why the big cats? In saving them and their ecosystems, Panthera founding chairman Thomas Kaplan said at the press preview, we are preserving one-third of the earth’s land mass as well as keeping the natural balance in check. But we are also paying tribute to these animals’ charismatic power and grace, he added — and the contemplation of beauty that Hermès artistic director Pierre-Alexis Dumas spoke of in his remarks.

Certainly, the Bruce Museum exhibit will go a long way to further that contemplation and the increasing partnership between the arts and the sciences that is a Bruce hallmark. Curated by Dominique Surh of the Leiden Collection, Kaplan’s private art collection, with contributions from Ménéhould de Bazelaire, who is the director of Hermès cultural heritage, the exhibit contains some 60 paintings and drawings from the Emile Hermès collection and the Robert Dallet family private collection. The show is accompanied by a book co-published by Hermès and the French publishing house Actes Sud, whose blue cover was chosen, Dumas said, to represent both the nocturnal aspect of the big cats and the darkness of being endangered.

In that book and the exhibit, the reader and viewer will encounter an artist who captured the soulfulness of the big cats’ emerald or amber eyes, their slinky musculature and the irresistible way in which they crouch to pounce or sip water. A master of composition, Dallet would complement the curve of a cat’s spine with the sinuousness of a tree branch. Such fearful symmetry, as it were, is presented in a beautifully lit, deep blue and green design by Hermès — which is also providing free admission for the run of the show.

Equally impressive is the Dallet attitude to these animals. A lion may amorously groom a lioness in one drawing and attack an antelope in another. There’s nothing sentimental about these works.

But then, there’s nothing sentimental about nature.

For more, visit brucemuseum.org.

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