Behind the Lens: Paris’ Deyrolle Taxidermy Shop

We were saddened when we heard that the beloved Paris taxidermy shop Deyrolle caught fire earlier this month. The ground floor garden shop has reopened, but the taxidermy gallery upstairs was badly damaged and hopes to reopen later this year. Photographer Catherine Karnow shot the shop for the “Authentic Paris” cover story and was shocked to hear the tragic news. “It’s not like it was some fusty-musty old place,” Karnow told us. “This is a main, prominently standing building in the middle of a thriving, well-heeled neighborhood, and it seemed to be professionally run and smartly handled. The last time I saw it, the place was bubbling with life and vigor.”

Just for IT readers, she recounts the unexpected experience she had while on the assignment there this past fall. Check out her photographs here.


Prince Louis-Albert de Broglie in the Deyrolle Taxidermy Shop in Paris, by Catherine Karnow

On the way to the Pont Neuf to shoot dusk, I walked past a store whose window display I had shot a few days earlier. (I had photographed some stuffed deer “wearing” red aprons). Oddly, the shop was open, though it was after six p.m., and they were having an art opening. The store turned out to be one of the oddest places in all of Paris.

The taxidermy shop, Deyrolle, is on the second floor and owned by the Prince Louis-Albert de Broglie. But I did not yet know this when I asked if I could shoot the art opening; as it alone seemed like a lively event to cover. I asked for permission to photograph and the director was called down. He politely informed me that they never, ever allow a single photograph to be taken in their store. I said thank you very much anyway, and turned to leave. “But,” he said, “let me show you the upstairs; I think you will enjoy seeing it.” No, no, I said, I have a feeling it will be too tempting to shoot, so I think I had better just go right now. I added that I had an important photograph to take nearby. “Not yet,” he said, “I have an idea. Please follow me.”

As I came up the stairs, my jaw dropped. I came into the first of a series of high ceiling rooms with chandeliers and stately windows, walls painted a matte green. Everywhere I looked there were animals: huge stuffed lions and leopards; a full-size zebra standing awkwardly next to the door; plump geese, miniature donkeys, a gigantic water buffalo; eagles and hawks swooping down from the ceiling; glass cases of songbirds perched on branches and trays of moths, butterflies and shiny scarabs, fossils and rocks, and so on.

Gathered under or around—or even on—these stuffed creatures was an almost equally intriguing collection of people. Raven-haired women wrapped in black scarves, (one actually had a silver streak in her black hair and looked like a skunk), men wearing turtlenecks, camel-hair coats and thick black-rimmed glasses: the hunting-and-fishing set mingling with the beau monde.  I longed to raise my camera and photograph, but the director had said that I could not.

“I have decided,” he said, “to allow you to take one photograph of the prince in any setting you choose.” As he strode forth to introduce me to the prince, a sudden plan hatched in my head.  I spoke up and said that I should really rush to shoot my dusk shot first, but that I would be back shortly, and that I would do the prince’s portrait then.  He agreed, and I left to shoot the dusk.

When I returned 30 minutes later, the party was still in full swing. I was breathless to shoot. But I needed official permission first. I asked for the prince and someone pointed him out. He was leaning against a polar bear, and wearing a bright green corduroy suit and an orange tie. His wife was wearing a matching orange silk blouse, which she later said was just coincidence. He greeted me cheerfully and said, “Well, my dear, where would you like to take me…for the photograph…?” I replied, Monsieur, it is a bit crowded right now, so wouldn’t it be a good idea if I perhaps photographed the party a bit until it thins out? “Wonderful idea,” he enthused. Victory! I thought, and scurried about shooting like mad before the party wound down.

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I photographed the King of Montenegro having a whiskey under the head of a wild boar with foot-long fangs, and a woman in a red coat staring at a large lobster suspended vertically in a glass case. Standing by a table of fluffy bunnies was a dapper man with his coat draped over his shoulders. He was in the middle of telling a tale with great gusto. I realized that he was recounting his meeting with General Giap, in Hanoi, who actually is a close family friend. When there was a lull, I introduced myself, told him of my friendship with the general, then learned that he was actually the Greek ambassador to Vietnam. I gave him one of my Halong Bay postcards. He gazed at it sadly, saying that when he had visited recently, it was not at all what he had been expecting, but that this photograph represented what he had hoped to see.  He invited me to visit him next time I was in Hanoi.

As the party wound down, I found the prince still perched on the polar bear, and snapped a few casual shots. He made funny faces with his wife and stroked the polar bear’s fur. Someone took some amusing snaps of me with the prince, who then invited me on a hunting expedition in the Loire Valley. I promised that I would be back.

UPDATE: Catherine Karnow will be teaching the National Geographic Traveler Photo Seminar, A Passion for Travel: Photos That Tell the Story on two dates this fall. The first is on Sunday, September 25 in Los Angeles and the other is Sunday, November 13 in Tampa. Visit http://ngtravelerseminars.com/ for more information and to register.

Photos: The owner of Deyrolle, posed next to a polar bear, above center; an apron-wearing goat, above right; The priceless butterfly collection, unfortunately destroyed in the fire, below left. By Catherine Karnow

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