• Dickie Zebregs

VanIngen&VanIngen, Mysore: Devine taxidermists to the Maharajas of India

VanIngen&VanIngen, were taxidermists to the Maharajas of India, best known for their leopard and tiger mounts. The VanIngen 'factory' produced more than 43,000 tiger and leopard mounts (Morris, 2006) in their 90 years of operation, of which many are still found scattered all over the world today. They specialized in head mounts, animal rugs and full mounts.

In the 1890s, Eugene van Ingen established the firm, which was run by his sons until it closed in 1999. Soon after the establishment, they served the highest international nobility, amongst which the most important the Indian Maharajas, who had a demand for 'shikar' hunting trophies. Although Rowland Ward, with his 'Jungle' at Piccadilly Circus was the most popular taxidermist in the world, he never beat VanIngen&VanIngen in mounting tigers and leopards.

A pair of tiger heads, shot by the Prince of Teck, from the collection of Kensington Palace (for sale)

VanIngen&VanIngen was a brand that meant high-quality and outstanding craftmanship, creating mounts of utmost beauty with an excellent eye for detail. Their work included constructing moulds, mannikins, tongues, teeth, whiskers and most important in their work; the eyes. They were hand-painted in Germany after the living tiger's eyes. Furthermore, the snarling expression of many leopards and tigers made by VanIngen was the trademark of the company. This feature, created by groves in the nose-area, was rigorously studied by the founder of the company and perfectioned. Early mounts, therefore, don't show this snarling expression yet.

During its heyday, the company was the most significant taxidermy business in the world, beating the Ward family's 'The Jungle'. From the early 1930s till the late 1960s, the company could produce over four-hundred tigers a year, but would also mount bears, lions, leopards and other species of cats, Indian and Africa game. In this period, the factory employed over hundred-fifty workers, creating mounts for movie-stars, viceroys, governors, generals, nobility and most important of all the Indian nobility and royalty.

In Hinduism, the tiger was holy, and therefore not to be hunted. Only when it became a man-eater, a maharaja could hunt down a tiger. However, in a later period, shikar or hunting became popular amongst the maharajas and more of a sport. The lifelikeness of the mounts was essential to the Hindu, for it would grant the owner the power of the tiger. It was therefore not uncommon for the maharajas, but also Muslim royalty, to pray on the tiger rugs.

A regular sized tiger rug (for sale) and one of the biggest known (sold), from our collection

In the early 2000s, Pat Morris visited Mysore to research and document the VanIngen company and what was left of it. Here he met the last survivor of the business management Joubert van Ingen. His travels and research were published in his book VanIngen&VanIngen - Artists in Taxidermy in 2006. Here he explains the sheer quality, complexity and fantastic history of the most excellent taxidermy firms. Most important, the book contains copies of the factory workbook records, which is vital in dating the mounts and knowing if they are legal to own and sell.

His research was also of great interest to zoologists, as it is one of the only trustworthy sources that show the abundance of tigers, leopards and other animals that once roamed India.

Today, Van Ingen taxidermy mounts are found in private collections and museums throughout the world. Prices for fine mounts that are seldomly offered at auction may surpass ten-thousand euro's and are still rising. VanIngen mounts may as well be regarded as one of the best investments in taxidermy.

Today there is little to no information regarding possibly one of the greatest taxidermy firms in the world, apart from P.A. Morris' studies. The Van Ingen factory in Mysore lies derelict overgrown by the local jungle. The last member of the Van Ingens family Edwin Joubert Van Ingen (born 27 July 1912) died on 12 Mar 2013 in his Mysore residence. He was 101 years old. Almost 55 years after the work in the factory began to decline in the late 1960s, luckily, due to the ban on hunting in India.

Zebregs&Röell highly values the natural world and is against hunting for pleasure. We only sell taxidermy or other objects of natural history interest that are over a hundred years old or before the 1947 CITES convention date. All our pieces come with the necessary paperwork.