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A Menagerie of Art at Doris Duke’s Rough Point Mansion


Doris Duke, heiress and art collector, was known as an avid animal enthusiast.  Her most notable pets were two camels who summered at Rough Point, her Newport mansion, so it is not surprising that animals appear as a frequent theme in her remarkable art collection which includes objects ranging from the Han dynasty (206 BC – 263 AD) to the mid 20th century.  Animals depicted as companions, as wild life, and as allegorical creatures will be the subject of a new exhibition entitled Zoo in the House: Animals in the Doris Duke Art Collection.  A personal glimpse of Doris Duke and her beloved pet dogs will be provided through photographs and video.  The exhibition opens on April 10, 2008 in the galleries at Rough Point in Newport, Rhode Island.


Doris Duke’s personal connection to animals clearly motivated her to collect a body of work that features extensive animal imagery.  But what has motivated so many artists to portray the animal form?  Since the dawn of time, humans have included animals in their art.  Whether portraying animals as wild and exotic creatures, endowing them with human traits, or showing them as companions, artists have reveled in their strength, beauty and grace. The exhibition will explore the fascinating history of animals in art through the lens of this very personal collection.  Highlights of Zoo in the House include a Tang dynasty earthenware horse and camel, a bronze lion by Barye, a painting by Julien Dupre, and several Audubon prints. 


Visitors to the exhibit will also gain insight into the cultural and religious significance of animal imagery.  One example is an exquisite clock created by the Meissen Porcelain Factory, circa 1730-1760, featuring a white elephant.  The white elephant is a revered animal in Thai culture.  Because the animal is revered, it cannot be used for labor.  Also, because a white elephant is an albino, it has many health problems which make it difficult and costly to maintain.  Thus the term ‘white elephant’ has come to symbolize a large and useless item in modern language.  We often hear of a ‘white elephant sale’ as an opportunity to rid ourselves of cumbersome possessions. 


This year’s exhibit includes a special feature entitled Unleashed! A Community Art Gallery which will display artwork by local youth.  In a collaborative project with the Newport Public Schools, supported by the Newport Public Education Fund, students from 3rd grade, 8th grade and high school will visit Rough Point to participate in art education activities and learn about the significance of animals in art.  They will then create original artwork inspired by their experience.  The artwork displayed in this special area of the exhibition will rotate during the season to showcase other community groups.


Zoo in the House will be on display in Rough Point’s two galleries from April 10 – November 8, as part of a complete house tour.  From April 10 – May 10, tours are offered Thursday-Saturday from 10:00-2:00.  From May 13 – November 8, tours are offered Tuesday-Saturday from 9:30-4:00.  Tickets cost $25.  Children under 12 are admitted free.  Advance reservations can be made online at  Visitors can also purchase tickets at the door.  For group tour information, contact Barbara Schlubach at (401) 849-7300 x10 or 


Rough Point was willed to the Newport Restoration Foundation by Doris Duke upon her death in 1993, complete with all of its contents.  It was her express wish that it be opened to the public as a house museum. Founded by Miss Duke in 1968, the Newport Restoration Foundation, a non-profit institution, was formed with the express purpose of preserving, interpreting, and maintaining landscape and objects reflecting Aquidneck Island’s 18th and 19th century architectural culture.  The foundation continues to be actively engaged in educational efforts, scholarly research and historical preservation.


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