Darwin, Sinke & van Tongeren

Red and Green Macaw by Darwin, Sinke and Tongeren

Dutch taxidermy artists whose joyous work is inspired by the great natural-world painters of 17th-century Holland, notably Jan Weenix, Melchior d’Hondecoeter and Adriaen van Olen.

From the moment we met Jaap Sinke and Ferry van Tongeren in their magician’s den of a workshop near Amsterdam, we were hooked (the Darwin of the title is a witty reference to Charles Darwin, whom they count as a co-founder). They have taken the ancient craft of taxidermy and elevated it to fine art. These are contemporary Old Masters created from a three-dimensional palette of beautiful creatures saved from the incinerator, re-born in all their finery. A DS&vT composition is as valid a piece of art as painting, sculpture or contemporary installation.

Crucially, all creatures that they preserve are born and have died in captivity, with full authentication to prove this. No animal, bird or reptile is harmed in order to create this art.

Ferry van Tongeren and Jaap Sinke founded their atelier in 2013, launching their first Fine Taxidermy collection, La Vie de l‘Eden, early in 2014. However, they met twenty-five years’ ago while both working as advertising creatives at Ogilvy & Mather in Amsterdam. Ferry later founded his own agency, where Jaap subsequently become a partner. When the agency was sold, Ferry decided on a new career in taxidermic art, a subject that had long fascinated him. He studied the techniques under the guidance of two notable Dutch taxidermists and this led to him working as a taxidermist at the National Museum of Natural History in Leiden, one of the oldest and largest taxidermy collections in the world, where he continues to extend his knowledge of traditional techniques. So passionate was he about this extraordinary change of direction that he persuaded Jaap to also train in taxidermic techniques and join him in this new venture.

What drives their creative energy is the respect and love they have for the beauty of nature. They take inspiration from Dutch Old Masters and from early natural history artists, such as John James Audubon and Ernst Haeckel. They see it as their mission to preserve nature in all its glory and to encourage the viewer to look with new eyes at the natural world that surrounds us. Their first show in London was a sell-out, quickly followed by another sell-out – this time hosted by Bernard Shapero – with Damien Hirst buying thirty-nine pieces for his private Murderme collection. Other international shows have followed, including Amsterdam, Brussels and San Francisco.

Today, Jaap and Ferry’s work is not only recognised as something extraordinary by collectors and taxidermy enthusiasts, but is also winning the attention of art institutions across the globe – 2017 saw their first museum exhibition at MOA, the Museum Oud Amelisweerd in Bunnik, a beautifully restored 18th-century mansion where they created twenty site-specific taxidermy compositions to sit alongside artworks by Dutch contemporary artist, Armando.

In 2018, Lannoo published their first book, Our First Book, with text written by our own founder, Helen Chislett.

The Unknown Poses photographs are directly related to the DS&vT taxidermy process, which requires enormous patience and dedication. Before being mounted, the animal, reptile and bird skins are carefully bathed to ensure they are as clean and bright as possible. While these empty skins float in the soapy water, they seem to be revived back into life, performing a sort of graceful water ballet. Jaap and Ferry wanted to capture the magic of this poetic and mesmerising effect in these bold and spectacular photographs. (Please take time to watch their bewitching film – link below.)

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