A Second LIfe


Taxidermy was once considered the remit of eccentric pub landlords and country estate owners but the artform is experiencing somewhat of a renaissance. Eccentricity is still the key to modern taxidermy but the ancient craft has taken on a fresh lease of life thanks to the pioneering work of Dutch duo Jaap Sinke and Ferry van Tongeren.

The former advertising creatives founded Fine Taxidermy in 2013, fuelled by a joint curiosity of the process of animal preservation. After shadowing a traditional taxidermist who taught them the age-old technique, they set out to modernise the art for the next generation, combining their learnings with their experience of creative direction to transform ethically sourced animals into unique works of art.

The duo launched their first collection at an exhibition in London in 2015 and immediately took the art world by storm. Illustrious British artist Damien Hirst, known for his sensational works, bought all 39 pieces for his private collection. “It was a jump start and a recognition that we were right thinking that what we thought was beautiful and special could be agreed on by a niche market,”
says Jaap.

With Hirst’s endorsement, the duo persevered, and their expanding collections were quickly coveted by collectors, fashion designers, gallerists and interior designers who placed them in houses, palaces, and hospitality venues around the world. 

Jaap and Ferry’s most iconic works include giant bird cages covered in colourful, exotic parrots, and wall hangings comprised of snakes that dramatically swirl around each other. “People see that what we do has nothing to do with the dusty stuff you know from old pubs or grandparents' houses,” says Jaap. “We are recognised as the people who changed and revived taxidermy.”

Fine Taxidermy only works with animals, birds and reptiles that lived and died in captivity of natural causes, meaning it's often a long process to find desired bodies suitable for the taxidermy process. “Sourcing animals was a very challenging task in the beginning,” Jaap says. “We focused on zoos and special breeders to get the most rare and special specimens.”

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As they don't accept hunted or poached animals, Jaap isn't concerned about backlash from campaigners – their greatest headache is the admin involved in securing the animals and delivering the finished pieces. “It is a very regulated business; there is a lot of paperwork involved,” he says.

Fine Taxidermy’s creative process is led by “intuition and inspiration”. “We just see combinations appear in our imagination and start sketching flamboyant poses to create our signature style,” Jaap says. “Every animal we create has a unique pose. This means we don’t work with factory moulds to put the skin around. We sculpt every mannequin ourselves in a very dramatic or flirting pose.”

When they’re not in the studio in The Netherlands, the pair travel the globe to source animals for their “frozen vault”. Inspired by golden age painters Melchior d’Hondecoeter, Jan Weenix and Frans Snijders, they also seek out quality 17th-century ornaments and antique bases to complete their compositions.

The company’s pieces are mostly tailormade commissions for clients, including several superyacht owners. For one British business tycoon looking to decorate his Feadship explorer yacht, the pair created an onboard ‘Darwin Room’ inspired by 19th-century naturalist and biologist Charles Darwin. “We created a number of wunderkammer collection boxes with shells, eggs and hummingbirds mounted as scientific specimens,” Jaap says. “We also created a work with a complete collection of birds from the Turaco family. To gather such a collection of different species within one family of birds took us years to complete.”

Currently Jaap and Ferry are collecting rare dinosaur fossils for a special collection. So far, they've secured an elephant bird, a basilosaurus, and a giant mososaurus skull. Projects such as this are about more than art; they spread an important message of preservation and the immortalisation of nature’s animals for the next generation.

The next stage of Fine Taxidermy’s mission to transform the industry is to make their work accessible to the public in a permanent exhibition. “Our ultimate goal is to create a museum of endangered species in our creative style,” Jaap explains. “We want to fill a beautiful monumental building in a European capital with works that will be beautiful and tell the message of wildlife preservation with much more impact.”



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