Last month marked the 70th anniversary of the discovery of the Lascaux cave and its famous paintings (yes, I'm a little late to the party). Can you imagine stumbling upon such a treasure, as did two boys and their dog in 1940?
In honor of that anniversary, Life magazine has put up a slide show that includes never before published photos of some of the paintings, plus photos of the the photographer, Ralph Morse, and some of the people and equipment necessary to document this important find.
The team photographing the cave had to find a generator to light the cave (not easy following the war), lug cumbersome lights and photographic equipment down into the cave, and shoot from some very awkward angles. Morse is quoted as saying that the work inside the cave was far easier than getting all the equipment down there.
The cave paintings have always fascinated and moved me. The paintings are so alive, and, amazingly, the colors have stayed vibrant down through thousands of years. The animals are portrayed realistically and in a way that emphasizes movement. Evidently, the artists were fairly sophisticated when it came to color and form. I can't look at these paintings without wonder, thinking of what early humans were capable of, thinking about the impulse to art, whether that impulse was religious, magical, or simply expressive. Holding an awareness of the human drive to create things of beauty can be sustaining in times when destruction, darkness, greed, and the infliction of suffering seem to have the upper hand.
This is a painting of aurochs:
When the Chauvet cave was discovered in 1994 I was tremendously excited and bought a book of the paintings as soon as it became available. In the Chauvet cave are the earliest known cave paintings, dating back as far as 32,000 years ago. For some photos of Chauvet, go here. Below is a Chauvet painting.
I would love to have a hanging of cave paintings above my fireplace. To me they are an inspiration.