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Paris cabinet of curiosities

What is your association with wildlife in Paris? Baroque and neoclassical buildings covered in pigeon excrement or rats scurrying about the finer ‘immondices’? Well, guess again…

And I’m not talking about the excellent Muséum national d’histoire naturelle with its four locations in Paris. I recently visited another real gem: Deyrolle. Located at 46 rue du Bac for the past 131 years (though already founded in 1831), this shop sells and produces taxidermy, entomology, and other wonderful objects related to nature. A short visit to Paris with my wife to celebrate our anniversary gave me just the excuse to finally visit and see this store for myself. I know… it’s very romantic. But here is a fun fact for you pessimists out there: a scene from Woody Allen’s excellent and – might I add – romantic film ‘Midnight in Paris’ was shot here. So you see, I got away with it. 🙂

Although the prices are quite steep, a visit is worthwhile even if you don’t want to buy anything. Equal parts museum and shop… it is a true cabinet of curiosity, reminiscent of the natural history collections of the scientific revolution. From huge stuffed polar bears at 12.000 euro to endless affordable mounted insect species in an overwhelming interior. There are wonders everywhere and you can easily spend an hour looking about – without the staff getting annoyed! I made several rounds of the first floor and kept seeing new objects. I didn’t know you were able to preserve caterpillars and very delicate spiders for example.

I am a modest collector and taxidermy enthusiast myself but only learned about Deyrolle in 2008 as so many other people did. It made the headlines after it’s interior and vast collections where destroyed in a devastating fire. You wouldn’t be able to tell these days, however, since luckily it is completely restored and looking marvelously unchanged since 1881.

Admiring and sometimes even collecting stuffed animals and dead insects might seem at odds with me being a wildlife photographer. Their credo often being: “Take only photographs, leave nothing but footprints”. Although that is quite true, I still admire animals (or parts of), even after their long gone. After all, biology is derived from the Greek word bios “life” and logia “study of”. Still, I do not collect living specimens from the wild and luckily all specimens and objects in Deyrolle are Cites certified, with the majority coming from zoos, circuses, or breeding farms. Sustainability issues are thereby avoided since collectors and the market they create can cause havoc among native populations. Ethically, certain specimens and/or objects still remain an issue, but that is for you to decide.

After this philosophical paragraph I would like to conclude on a different note: when visiting Paris, go visit Deyrolle and soak up the 19th-century decor. Whether you like taxidermy or not (and trust me, my wife doesn’t normally) everyone will revel in its many wonders and be swept off your feet. Let me know how you experienced your visit!

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