Le crocodile aux phantasmes

Jarry’s lifelong interest in the macabre figures in one of his few surviving paintings. A melee of grisly creatures and skeletons emerges from the walls and floor of a magician’s study. The appropriation and isolation of existing imagery that would inform Jarry’s book practice is also at play in the painting. It was inspired by a Gustave Doré wood engraving in an old magazine. Jarry’s garishly hued recreation of Doré (known as the “master of black and white”) subverted the defining aesthetic and function of wood engraving, which sought to translate drawings and paintings into grayscale relief.

The crocodile suspended from the top of the necromancer’s study was a popular element in the eighteenth-century cabinets of curiosity that were assembled by wealthy connoisseurs. In 1903, Jarry famously disparaged works of art of his era by comparing them to stuffed crocodiles nailed to the wall—a dead signifier of wealth and banal taste.

Alfred Jarry (1873–1907), Le crocodile aux phantasmes, oil on board, ca. 1894. Collection of Robert Dean. © Jeff McLane Studio, Inc