The Artful Cockatoo

The Artful Cockatoo

Jul 15, 2012

“Artful is defined as (crafty, or mischievous) or (exhibiting art or skill)-the first being a good description of cockatoos, and the latter of the artists who depicted them. For the sake of space, this article deals almost exclusively with the Seram (Salmon-crested) cockatoo”.

Because of the recent surge in Indonesian cockatoos (and other parrots) in captivity, there might be a tacit assumption that these birds entered the pet trade only in the last quarter of the 20th C. Indeed, there was a large swell in Yellow-crested cockatoos imported into the US and UK in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and in Salmon-crested cockatoos just before the CITES induced international ban in 1989. However, the history of cockatoos in the western world differs greatly from that formulation and suggests that Indonesian cockatoos (and other parrots) were introduced to China, Europe and other western countries much earlier than that, with some of the proof unquestionably documented in the Arts.

The arrival of live cockatoos from the Spice Islands was met with infatuation with their beauty, talking abilities, intelligence and other features , as it had been in China much earlier. If this infatuation with exotic parrots from Indonesia was true, one might expect a parallel rise in the representation of these colorful birds in the Natural History of the artists of the times.

This report documents the truth of this hypothesis by providing a very small gallery of the Art of the Day. Interestingly, here seemed to be a striking preference for Salmon-crested cockatoos in the Art of the times. However, these birds could only be properly represented on canvas, etchings and other styles if either the artist saw live cockatoos . At the outside, however, artists had to depend on skins and sketetons, until live parrots could make the long and dangerous trip from Indonesia.

Read the full PDF here.

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