From 1832 to 1887, Aloys Zötl created, with an extraordinary effort of visionary imagination and zealous research, a sumptuous bestiary, praised by André Breton as a jewel-like work of Surrealism ante litteram. These two watercolours belong to the early, most interesting and experimental phase of Zötl's creation, and perfectly convey the charm of his sophisticated magical realism.
Aloys Zötl left his natal village of Freidstadt, in Northern Austria, (where he was born in 1803) to move to the nearby town of Eferding, where he continued in the family tradition of textile and paper dyeing for the rest of his life. His isolated existence in the Alpine region is in striking contrast with his exuberantly exotic depictions of animals in improbable tropical settings, to which he dedicated sixty years of his unique creative endeavours. His bestiary can, thus, be considered the immediate precedent of the Douanier Rousseau's luxuriant jungles, similarly populated by mysterious, surreal creatures. Like Rousseau's landscapes, Zötl's animals caught the attention of the Surrealists: in his introduction to Il bestiario di Aloys Zötl (J. Cortázar, Parma, 1972, p. 15), André Breton wrote: '... Through his exceptional eye, trained by his profession to the subtlest selections of the colours and their tones, Zötl acquired a 'mental prism', working as a key to a visionary universe, and disclosing to him the secrets of the animal reign, existing within us and playing a paramount role in the creation of our subconscious symbols... '.
Slightly bigger than the later watercolours of the bestiary, these drawings bear under the mount Zötl's notes in Latin and German, describing the habits of the animals and the characteristics of their countries of origin, in elegant, baroque Gothic handwriting.