Percy Shakespeare 1906-1943
The Tropical Bird House, Dudley Zoo. Oil on canvas, 1939
The Bird House was one of the twelve Tecton buildings that formed the basis of the new Zoo. As one commentator of the time said of the Zoo;
"at once a scientific centre, an example of an ultra-modern town plan in miniature and a source of entertainment for a huge industrial population"
Shakespeare's painting captures a mix of science laboratory, architecture showcase and family day out. It offers us valuable clues as to how zoos operated during the 1930's.
There are eighteen humans in the painting; six are children. The family group which dominates the centre of the canvas show both children turning away from the primary exhibit - indeed the girl in white appears bored. There are two figures who both appear to work at the zoo; they are the only people not in a group. One is holding a watering can - possibly a zookeeper, whilst the other is seated - is he selling seeds? This does confirm the idea of a zoo visit being a 'social experience' for recreation... a family day out but we are reminded that visitors react in different ways ranging from sheer boredom to the desire to recreate through art (as seen by the boy on the left).
Percy's life at the time of painting, was centred in Birmingham but he was not leaving Dudley, where his home was, completely behind.
Dudley Zoo opened in the hillside grounds of Dudley Castle in 1937. It was an exciting development for the town and the buildings were very futuristic for the time, designed in reinforced concrete by Berthold Lubetkin and the Tecton Partnership.