Deyrolle – Unicorns in downtown Paris!
There is a place, a magical place, hidden away in the upper floor of a small boutique in Paris with almost two hundred years in existence. Deyrolle’s is like Alibaba’s tavern. Paris… Should you walk by the boutique, or even enter on the ground floor, you would never imagine the unexpected treasure trove hiding just above your head on the second floor…
The gentleman at the counter is actually a gatekeeper to another world. Pass that gentleman, and climb the wooden staircase, winding up and away until you are peeking into a marvelous land of curiosities. The unicorn awaits you…
Located near the Boulevard Saint Germain and with almost two hundred years in existence, Deyrolle’s is like Alibaba’s tavern. Specialized in taxidermy and entomology, it is filled with fascinating creatures, both real and imagined. The juxtaposition of a stuffed tiger next to a grouping of fluttering butterflies in front of a map of the moon is mesmerizing and is what makes Deyrolle’s so special.
There is an extensive collection of books for sale on natural history. Deyrolle’s is also well-known for their educational children’s posters that are still used in schools across France. They also provide life-sized skeletons for science classes, replicas since the 1950’s. Amazingly they still get complaints for switching to plastic…who would really want Aunt Bertha hanging in their child’s classroom?
Cabinet of Curiosities
At Deyrolle’s you will find all kinds of curiosities, from insect collections to a large rhinoceros to flying owls. The collection is a unique source of inspiration for artist and collectors alike, or even the home decor enthusiast who is looking for something a little unusual and uniquely beautiful (peacock for your living room anyone???). I personally love the battalions of beetles and groupings of butterflies that flutter behind glass.
The main “Room of Curiosities”, self-described as the last cabinet of curiosities open to the public, is a little disconcerting. Here you will encounter some rather large and impressive mammals. Chickens, zebras, snakes, wolves, and even a baby elephant along with more exotic species such as polar bears and unicorns all coexist together in seemingly content harmony, hardly what you would find in the real world. Don’t forget to look overhead, where you will also find flying eagles, bats, owls and ducks.
The scary stuff such as the hefty tiger and the full-sized adult grizzly bear, both seemingly ready to attack, can be a little intimidating. In fact, I would be careful about bringing impressionable young children should they confuse the dormant for something a little more alive. The feel of the place is a real mix between serious fascination and mild terror!
The Perfect Gift
Most of the specimens on display available for sale or rent. When I visited last, I was so enthralled that I JUST HAD TO bring home something. I figured, what better gift for my son’s upcoming birthday than a bunch of beetles behind glass for his bedroom? Isn’t that what all Mothers think when they see rows and rows of marching multi colored beetles ??? Ok, well my girlfriend thought I was a little weird too when I told her about it, but what does she know!
Creating your own display box
With the lovely lady working in the Entomology Room (who seconds ago not realizing I was there and struggling to pin an insect let out a quite audible “putain de merde”), we began my own personal bug project.
First we picked out a box to house the collection, a wooden box with a solid black background. Then, keeping my budget in mind (although in perfect Girl Gone Gallic mode I got a little carried away and threw that to the wind shortly thereafter), we started considering the insect options. Not all bugs can be imported to all countries, so check first.
I decided on beetles, a little more masculine than a bunch of dancing butterflies. Rather than one large specimen, I wanted several smaller ones to better fill the container and chose metallic specimens for maximum bling. When the trays of insects are opened, they emit a rather unpleasant smell, so be prepared if you decide to follow in my footsteps and create your own project.
The lovely (previously swearing) lady was so patient with me, pining and repining the chosen specimens until just the right look had been achieved. Poor bugs, I apologize for repeatedly stabbing you in my indecisiveness…
I’m not sure that my son will completely appreciate the gift, but I definitely enjoyed the experience. The beetles remind me of my time spent in Paris in my twenties, when I could hear the pitter-patter of not just any beetle but cockroaches in the Parisian apartment where I was staying. It took me awhile to figure out what that noise was, but I tiptoed stealthily into the kitchen after midnight one night and flicked on the light – just barely glimpsing a scattering of cockroaches as they fled into the corners and under the stove. If you have ever read “Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka, you can better appreciate the memory.
Ethics and Morals
Deyrolle’s is sometimes accused of being in the macabre business of death, but before anyone gets all worked up let me reassure that you needn’t be misled by all the talk. They take things very seriously here, this is an unscrupulous shop. Deyrolle’s does not forget that the animals were alive at one time, and must always be treated with dignity and respect. What Deyrolle’s does do well, is keep alive the memory of these animals. All animals meet the Washington Convention for animal trade and the endangered species acts. The large majority of the animals died of natural causes in zoos and circuses, and the insects come mainly from breeding farms created just for this purpose.
A Community Resource
Did you know Salvador Dali went to Deyrolle’s regularly, and even once ordered a pair of rhinoceros horns?
Do not neglect to consider that Deyrolle’s serves a real purpose to the community at large, and is a genuine source of inspiration and a destination for lovers of natural science and for all curious people. Not only can you visit for FREE their marvelous collection, but you can also them home should the desire strike.
Where else can you purchase a lion ($1OK USD), or a sweet little canary ($300 USD), or a beautiful butterfly ($20 USD)? Where else can rent a real life-sized tiger for fashion photo shoots, or even book the entire boutique for a movie filming? Where else can an artist rent a penguin to study for his latest art project ? Do you know anyone else that will artistically mount beetles and butterflies for you to bring home?
They even used to stuff deceased pets, but often the little old ladies who brought them in would be devastated with the end result of their stuffed miniature poodle – nothing can bring Tinkerbell home again, no matter how well done it is or how much they wish it.
Cabinet of Curiosities have been around for a long time. They were encyclopedic collections of objects, from natural history (real or imagined), geology, archaeology, religious or historical relics, works of art, and antiquities housed in a room or cabinet created just for this purpose.
Francis I (King of France from 1515 until his death in 1547) sent explorers to the East and to the Americas to bring back exotic species and natural wonders. He particularly sought legendary creatures such as basils, griffin claws, and unicorns. The pope even gave France I a naturalized hydra for his collection, one of the most sought after mythical creatures.
There’s a mythical creature that resembles a hare with horns in Petaluma, California would have fit quite well into this collection.
Another type of collection is that of Thomas Dent Mütter (1811–1859) an early American plastic surgeon specializing in repairing anomalies such as cleft lip and club foot collected all kinds of medical oddities. From the real thing such as a tumor to wax models, plaster casts, or illustrations, he had quite the horror room of medical deformities. There have been many other famous collections, but the practice has lost it’s popularity in modern times.
You wouldn’t know it from the rebuild, but we almost completely lost this amazing resource. Back in 2008, Deyrolle’s nearly burned completed to the ground leaving behind very little of the second floor and only some of the first floor. The whole community came together to save this treasure, rescuing what specimens could be saved and creating some really bizarre artwork from the half charred remains of the rest of the collection.
Back to Reality
Once you finally break away and stumble out of Deyrolle’s, it’s a little strange to be in the real world again. I hope that you do not miss this uniquely enchanting experience in one of the most unexpected boutiques of Paris. If you cannot make it to Paris anytime soon, then click here for a virtual photo tour…
46 Rue du Bac, Paris
Métro: Rue du Bac
-Girl Gone Gallic