When most people think of taxidermy, especially those who dislike the practice, they think of hunters' trophies: severed heads of animals killed for sport and amusement attached to wooden plaques and mounted on the wall. Certainly hunting trophies put on view a primordial urge to wrestle with nature and emerge victorious, but once the battle is over, what purpose do the heads really serve? In part, they authenticate the hunter’s yarn: I really did shoot a six-point buck; I really did travel to Africa and shoot a lion. And by providing material evidence of what might be a tall tale, hunting trophies act as souvenirs not of nature, not of the deer or lion, but of the hunter’s own life and experiences. Perhaps more so than any other style of taxidermy, hunting trophies are storytellers.
image: Lion heads photographed by the nineteenth-century hunter, explorer, and Staff Intelligence Officer Guy C. Dawnay in 1876. Dawnay’s love of hunting eventually proved fatal: Dawnay was killed by a wounded buffalo on a hunting expedition to east Africa in 1888.
Hunting trophies can also evoke a sense of geographical belonging or ownership. In this way hunting halls in ancestral homes functioned similarly to oil portraits of family members. By presenting the exploits of ancestors, trophies conveyed a sense of generational status and land ownership. Likewise, nineteenth-century British big game hunters returning home with trophies from exotic colonial frontiers were displaying not just their manly vigour but also their superior ability as imperialists to subdue and dominate uncivilised lands and their inhabitants. The trophies displayed in the Carpathian Hunting Museum in Romania, crammed with the exploits of Niçolae Ceauşescu, Romania’s Communist dictator, perhaps speak the most eloquently and the most tragically. As evidence of Ceauşescu’s excessive passion for hunting, the museum is a heartbreaking allegory of a man’s monomania and brutal treatment of Romania and its people.
The Hunting Hall in the Archbishop's Place in Kromeriz, Czech Republic
This section examines how nature has been used as a souvenir to tell stories and as a sign of geographical possession or belonging. The images include a view from the Carpathian Hunting Museum, the Hunting Hall in the Archbishop’s Palace in Kromeriz, Czech Republic (perhaps most popularly known from the movie Amadeus), trophy displays of the two most famous nineteenth-century British hunters, Frederick Selous and Roualeyn Gordon Cumming, and historic images of taxidermy in public spaces such as banks, bars, and airports.