The Monarch of the Glen (c. 1851) by Sir Edwin Landseer, as reproduced in Animal

Astonishing Animals – The Monarch of the Glen

New book Animal is a magnificent menagerie of imagery, documenting animals of all kinds throughout the ages

Sir Edwin Landseer’s 1851 oil painting of a red-deer stag is so accurate that it could grace the pages of a text book; but the pose and overall demeanour of the animal are carefully constructed to convey key Victorian values, such as power, pride, elegance and dignity. 

“It was his ability to subtly anthropomorphize animals even while depicting them in highly naturalistic ways that made Royal Academy member Landseer a favourite of Queen Victoria,” explains our new book, Animal: Exploring the Zoological World, “and, thanks also to his widely available steel engravings one of the best known of all animal painters in the nineteenth century.

The Monarch of the Glen is one of 300 images of animals from cave paintings to extraordinary medieval bestiaries - exquisite scientific illustrations to iconic paintings and contemporary artworks in Animal: Exploring the Zoological World - a visually stunning and broad-ranging survey that explores and celebrates humankind's ongoing fascination with animals.

Though anatomically perfect, the Monarch of the Glen's appealed to Victorian audiences not because of their familiarity with wildlife, but instead thanks to their ignorance of the natural world.

“During the queen’s reign from 1837 to 1901, the values Landseer projected through his images of animals would have been subliminally assimilated by city audiences who had developed a thirst for natural history in response to the fast-changing life conditions imposed by the industrial revolution.

Even the picture’s name is slightly inaccurate from a hunter’s point of view, as our book explains. “Strictly speaking, this deer is a royal stag – with twelve points on its antlers – rather than a monarch stag, which has at least sixteen points,” explains Animal. 


Animal: Exploring the Zoological World
Animal: Exploring the Zoological World

Nevertheless the painting, based on observations of deer in the wild Landseer made over decades of visiting Caledonia, “become synonymous with the majesty of Scotland’s wildlife and highlands.”

By the early twentieth century the painting had been so widely reproduced and used in advertising that it was seen as something of a cliché. Today, it has become synonymous with the majesty of Scotland’s wildlife and highlands. It was purchased in 2017 by the National Galleries of Scotland for £4 million.

Arranged in a curated and thought-provoking sequence, Animal: Exploring the Zoological World includes iconic works by a varied range of names including: Charles Darwin, Ernst Haeckel, Conrad Gesner, John James Audubon, Beatrix Potter, Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, and Joel Sartore. The huge range of works meanwhile, reflects the beauty and variety of animals themselves – including butterflies, hummingbirds, bats, frogs, tigers, dogs, jellyfish, spiders and elephants, to name a few. 

For more on this work and many other beautifully depicted beasts, order a copy of Animal: Exploring the Zoological World here.