Manchester Art Gallery

Escape of the Zebra from the Zoo during an Air Raid

Carel Victor Morlais Weight, 10 Sep 1908 - 13 Aug 1997



Escape of the Zebra from the Zoo during an Air Raid

Carel Victor Morlais Weight 10 Sep 1908 - 13 Aug 1997

Summary

A group of four panels depicting the escape of a zebra from Regent's Park Zoo during an air raid. In the top leftt-hand corner is a bombed zoo enclosure with a rearing zebra amongst the rubble. The dark town skyline is in the background silhouetted against the brightly lit sky. In the top right-hand corner is a deserted street in the darkness with the escaped zebra; the animal is being chased by three firemen. In the bottom left-hand corner, a raging fire is contained in the foreground; the zebra flees in the background. In the bottom right-hand corner, the zebra is cornered by the firemen in a courtyard by an air raid shelter. On 27 September 1940 during the blitz, five bombs hit the grounds of London Zoo cutting off the water-main and setting the restauruant on fire. Firemen had to use water from the sealion pond to extinguish the flames. One of the bombs fell on the Zebra House and a night watchman reported seeing an adult zebra cantering through the tunnel and out on to the park's Outer Circle road. The Keeper and air-raid squad set off in pursuit of the galloping zebra down Camden High Street and managed to shepherd the animal back to the safety of a shed just before he reached Camden Town. This strange event was not reported in the newspapers until the Director of the London Zoological Society mentioned it during a radio broadcast in December 1940. The Director, Professor Julian Huxley, suggested to Kenneth Clark (who was in charge of the official war artists) that someone should paint a reconstruction of this event. Carel Weight did not witness it but was commissioned by Kenneth Clark to record the zebra's escape and recapture. Weight brilliantly memorialises one of the strangest sights of the entire blitz, reconstructed from the accounts of eye-witnesses and participants. Weight's reconstruction is high drama, a great play in four acts. It was painted some time between early 1941 and the destruction of Weight's studio. However there is no evidence that it was officially commissioned by the War Artists' Advisory Committee nor is there an explanation of why it was not purchased by the Committee until July 1942. This painting was presented to the gallery in 1947 by the H.M. Government's War Artists' Advisory Committee.


Object Name

Escape of the Zebra from the Zoo during an Air Raid

Creators Name

Carel Victor Morlais Weight

Date Created

1941

Dimensions

unframed: 22cm x 34.6cm
framed: 56cm x 81.4cm

accession number

1947.425

Collection Group

fine art
painting
British

Place of creation

England

Support

panel

Medium

oil paint

Credit

Gift of H.M. Government War Artists' Advisory Committee.


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