THESE DRAWINGS HAVE BEEN CHOSEN to show two very different ways of picturing a wild animal. Hugo mixed his media and drew from memory and imagination to create narrative atmosphere. By contrast, Gericault took a sharp pencil to make repeated direct observations from life. Hugo’s page is flooded with the fearful presence of a remembered octopus.
As if disturbed from its gritty bed by our presence and curiosity, the ominous beast unwinds from the dark of the sea and of our nightmares. Apparently drawn in its own ink, it silently rises to the light, conjured by the hand of a great author of French literary fiction. Gericault’s sheet appears almost scratched by the ferocious play of his cat. He has watched her pounce, snarl, and turn, drawing her again and again to pin down the texture of her loose skin, her bony frame, her sharp teeth, and her distinctive temperament.
IN THES E TW O MANUSCRIPT S we discover diagrammatic drawings of animals that are each held tightly in a surprising space: a giant fish wears a ship’s hull, and blackbirds fly in formation through a mosaic of text. Baker lived in an era when ships were built without drawn plans.
Below we see his revolutionary design for an Elizabethan warship, later called a galleon. He studied the anatomy of fish, and from them learned that if he designed his ship with a “cod’s head and mackerel’s tail” (full bow, slim stern), it would achieve greater speed, balance, and steerage.
This drawing illustrates Baker’s theory, which in application gave strength and advantage to the English fighting the Spanish Armada. In contrast to the practical clarity of Baker’s thought, Knopf’s drawing opposite is the personal enigmatic expression of a mind gripped by illness. His birds stare, seemingly looking for our attention, and to assess our next move.