Nestled in Paris’s medieval heart, the 3rd arrondissement, hides an odd little museum: La Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, or The Museum of Hunting and Nature. We’d like to think that Professor Jenks, a hunting enthusiast himself, would appreciate this museum, which compels visitors to consider the activity of the hunt as a moment of communion between humanity and wilderness.
Several rooms are devoted to individual animals, displaying tapestries, sculpture, paintings and cultural artifacts inspired by that animal as well as taxidermied specimens of the creature itself. Altar-like cabinets fold out to reveal information of an animal; tiny pull-out drawers contain plaster casts of its tracks or samples of its feces. You can even look through tiny peepholes to observe a video feed of the animal in its natural habitat.
The artwork found in the museum, all inspired in some way by the natural world and the animal kingdom, ranges from medieval paintings to marble statues to contemporary video installations. In one tiny nook, owl-people loom down at visitors from a ceiling patterned with their magnificent feathering.
The museum is housed in a restored mansion, whose old-world grandeur encourages a sort of reverence as visitors wander from room to room. While some spaces are virtually crammed with animals, artwork and relics, others open out into more peaceful, contemplative spaces. Taxidermied animals nap in chairs or relax in front of broad windows, benign beasts claiming an aristocratic home for their own; they seem so comfortably settled that one feels almost intrusive, tiptoing and whispering so as not to bother them.
Although hunting is the primary subject of the museum, it seems to mock traditional motivations for hunting as a sport. One room imitates the style of a trophy room, replete with the mounted heads of African animals; but don’t get too close, or one particularly belligerent boar will start to grunt and yell at you.
Rather, the museum celebrates the wealth of inspiration provided by the natural world, and hunting as a point of entry into that world, dismissing blind admiration of an impressive specimen and instead encouraging — and rewarding — curiosity.