It seems as if the author Jeanette Winterson might have a bit of a pest control problem. ‘Rabbit ate my parsley’, she tweeted, ‘I am eating the rabbit.’ Accompanied, of course, by step-by-step photos of said rabbit, from skinning to Aga. Fair enough, many might say. At least she was sensible enough to eat the rabbit that she killed (and she even gave the cat the innards. So in the process, she saved on one supermarket chicken, and one tin of Whiskas. Pretty good going, I’d say.)
But she’s far from the only artist who has demonstrated a fondness for either killing animals, or for using them as artistic props. Hemingway is probably the most famous of the lot, having written extensively about his love of big game hunting in Africa, deep-sea fishing and bullfighting, most famously in The Old Man and the Sea. As he wrote to his friend F.Scott Fitzgerald:
‘To me heaven would be a big bull ring with me holding two barrera seats and a trout stream outside that no one else was allowed to fish in and two lovely houses in the town; one where I would have my wife and children and be monogamous and love them truly and well and the other where I would have my nine beautiful mistresses on nine different floors.’
Hunting in all its forms has proved a good source of material, for painters such as Snaffles, Lionel Edwards and Munnings (who were fox hunters themselves), and writers like Siegfried Sassoon, Jilly Cooper, and even Roald Dahl. That’s not to say that all of them agreed with hunting; Dahl’s The Magic Finger shows quite clearly that he disapproved of the sport. ‘It doesn’t seem right to me that men and boys should kill animals just for the fun they get out of it,’ he wrote.
In more recent years, Damien Hirst has, of course, made huge amounts of money through the taxidermy and preserving of a huge variety of animals, from sheep to sharks. Although he is said to ensure that his dead animals are ‘sourced ethically’, one of his installations, In and Out of Love, was criticised in 2012, as more than 9,000 butterflies died over the 23 weeks that the work was on display.
It isn’t always the animals that end up the worse off, though. The documentary Grizzly Man (watch it in full above) follows the life and death of Timothy Treadwell, who lived with grizzly bears for 13 summers, and was eventually killed and eaten by one. And although it was almost inevitable that Steve ‘The Crocodile Hunter’ Irwin would meet his end at the hands of one animal or another, that it was a sting ray was surprising.
Finally, though he may not exactly have been an artist in his own right, the late Chalky, a Jack Russell who belonged to the celebrity chef Rick Stein, caused an almighty ruckus when he killed the broadcaster Judith Hann’s rabbit.
I highly doubt that Winterson is even remotely bothered by the fact that some people are upset by her actions (or what PETA referred to as her ‘callousness’). After all, she was a vegetarian for 9 years simply because she objected to factory farming. As she said herself:
Here is my cat eating the rabbit innards. No waste no packaging no processing no food miles. pic.twitter.com/cByulPi8kN
— JEANETTE WINTERSON (@Wintersonworld) June 15, 2014
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.