20 Jun: The Famous Painting Ape

Congo, pet chimp of science writer and TV personality Desmond Morris, was considered a novelty in the art world when his paintings were displayed in the 1950’s. But, on 20th June, 2005, three of his works went under the hammer at prestigious London auction house Bonham’s – and sold for £12,000.

Morris – zoologist, surrealist and author of the bestselling science book The Naked Ape – had the perfect experience to support the monkey in his artistic career, and was rewarded when his chimp’s paintings were displayed at the ICA, lauded by Dali, and purchased by Prince Philip. 

In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly explain how Congo’s approach to art differentiated him from other primates; question whether Morris really was truly able to determine, as he claimed, that financial reward ruins artistic impulses; and reveal how Congo’s status as the world’s most advanced painting ape might soon be under threat… 

Further Reading:

• ‘Bidders go ape for chimpanzee art’ (BBC News, 2005): http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/4109664.stm

• ‘Congo and the ‘Biology of Art’’ (Zoological Society of London, 2021): https://www.zsl.org/blogs/artefact-of-the-month/congo-and-the-biology-of-art

• ‘Meridian Tonight: Desmond Morris and surrealist art ‘ (ITV, 2012)