I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Ecclesiastes 9:11

An ass - head of a school of art

In the end of the 19th century a group of innovative artists including Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, and Camille Pissarro organized Salon des Indépendants to exhibit their work. It became very famous and attracted most of the progressive French artists. In the March of 1910 the picture by an unknown artist J.R. Boronali was on display in the salon.

The sun fell asleep over Adriatic by Joachim-Raphaël Boronali

It did not draw much attention since it did not stand out from the other paintings around it. Soon, however, a newspaper reported [1] that the picture was painted by an ass.

The writer Roland Dorgelès with accomplices hired an ass from the owner of Montmartre cabaret Lapin Agile [2]. The hoaxers placed the donkey before a canvas, tied a brush to his tail and fed him carrots. While chewing, the ass vigorously wiggled his tail thereby creating the masterpiece. People's only contribution was to dip the brush into paints and to sign the picture at the end. The name Boronali was an anagram of Aliboron, an ass from La Fontaine's fable.

On April 1, Dorgelès published in humoristic journal Fantasio [3] the manifest of Excessivism, a new school of art created by the ass. It was a parody of the manifests of other progressive artistic schools.

Click to enlarge.

Inspired by this event Russian artist Mikhail Larionov organized an artistic group "Donkey's tail" [4]. The group among others included Kazimir Malevich. Their manifesto read as follows (my translation)

Last year in Paris a painting was exhibited and did not attract much attention. After the exhibition Parisian newspapers announced that the picture was painted by donkey's tail. Yellow press made noise about this incident. Now we are taking up the gauntlet. The audience thinks that we are painting with donkey's tail - we will be Donkey's Tail.

More hoaxes that embarrassed the art world had followed, including Disumbrationist School of Painting and Avantgarde artist Pierre Brassau.

Mikhail Simkin
December 3, 2015

  1. Un âne chef d'école. Il expose aux "Indépendants" un tableau peint avec sa queue. Cet âne, il est vrai, est de Montmartre. Le Matin, March 28, 1910, p. 4.
  2. « Boronali » cent ans plus tard...avec la République de Montmartre.République de Montmartre, 2010.
  3. Fantasio, April 1, 1910.
  4. Nikolaj Chardziev, The Russian Avant-Garde, Hylaea Print, Stockholm, 1976 (In Russian).

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