Singerie is the French word for "Monkey Trick". It is a genre depicting monkeys apeing human behavior, often fashionably attired, intended as a diverting sight, always with a gentle cast of mild satire.
These comical scenes with monkeys appearing in human attire and a human environment originated as a pictorial genre in Flemish painting in the 16th century and were subsequently further developed in the 17th century. The Flemish engraver Pieter van der Borcht introduced the singerie as an independent theme around 1575 in a series of prints, which are strongly embedded in the artistic tradition of Pieter Bruegel the Elder. These prints were widely disseminated and the theme was then picked up by other Flemish artists in particular by those in Antwerp such as Frans Francken the Younger, Jan Brueghel the Elder and the Younger, Sebastiaen Vrancx and Jan van Kessel the Elder. David Teniers the Younger became the principal practitioner of the genre and developed it further with his younger brother Abraham Teniers. The two brothers were able to cater to the prevailing taste in the art market and were thus instrumental in spreading the genre outside Flanders. Later in the 17th century artists like Nicolaes van Verendael, principally known as a painter of flower still lifes started to paint ‘monkey scenes’ as well.
Singeries became popular among French artists in the early 18th century, though the term is most usually reserved for a type of decorative painting associated with French Rococo, singeries are an old idea: Cyril Alfred detected a love of singerie that he found characteristic of the late Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt.
It revived with the French decorator and designer Jean Berain the Elder, who included dressed figures of monkeys in a lot of his wall decorations, and the great royal ébéniste André-Charles Boulle,
A complete monkey orchestra was produced in Meissen porcelain. In France the most famous such rococo decor are Christophe Huet's Grande Singerie and Petite Singerie decors at the Château de Chantilly; in England the French painter Andieu de Clermont is also known for his singeries: the most famous decorates the ceiling of the Monkey Room at Monkey Island Hotel, located on Monkey Island in Bray-on-Thames, England. The Grade I listed buildings, which have housed guests since 1840 were built in the 1740s by Charles Spencer, 3rd Duke of Marlborough.
Singeries regained popularity in the 19th century and artists then successful in this genre included Zacharie Noterman, Emmanuel Noterman, Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, Edmund Bristow, Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps, Charles Monginot and Paul Friedrich Meyerheim.
- Bert Schepers, Monkey Madness in Seventeenth-Century Antwerp, in: The Rubenianum Quarterly, 2012 2, p. 5
- Cyril Alfred, New Kingdom Art in Ancient Egypt, fig. 64.
- R.H. Randall Jr, "Templates for Boulle Singerie" The Burlington Magazine 111 No. 798 (September 1969), pp. 549-553.
- Zacharias Noterman, Les Plaideurs ('The Litigants') at Art of the Print
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