The Monkey and the Dolphin, 1879
A dolphin saves a monkey from a shipwreck off the coast of Athens, mistaking it for a man. The dolphin asks about the city and the monkey (to save his life) boasts about how important he is there, but quickly catches himself out. When the dolphin realizes he is carrying a lying monkey, he throws him back into the sea.
This work is informed by Moreau’s study of monkeys in the Jardin des Plantes. He focuses the viewer’s eye on the monkey’s open mouth. Talking animals was a key innovation of La Fontaine and the monkey’s chatter is at the crux of this tale. The deployment of light and shadow allows the viewer to see inside the mouth, behind the teeth, to the muscles of the tongue. Is he bragging or screaming? Has the dolphin worked out the truth?