Last year, when we were making our plans to move to France, reading books and doing research, I told Ben Blair that the number one thing I wanted to see was the prehistoric cave paintings in the Dordogne region.
The most famous are the Lascaux cave paintings. I studied them in college and fell in love with the whole idea of them immediately, because they’re dated at 20,000(!) years old, but there’s nothing primitive about them. The lines of the drawings are sophisticated and elegant. They were drawn over thousands of years by teams of artists who clearly studied a specific technique. They’re gorgeous. When I learned about them, I remember thinking: I know it was 20,000 years ago, but anyone whose brain could create something like those drawings, couldn’t have been very different from me.
Anyway. I’ve wanted to see them for so long, and on our drive to Barcelona, we were able to. (Chills just thinking about it!)
The Lascaux caves are closed now, because of a fungus that is eating away at the drawings. But there are several other caves you can visit. We stopped at Font de Gaume. It has drawings of Mammoths, wooly rhinoceros, bison and horses. It’s one of the only caves that shows multi-color drawings.
There are absolutely no photos allowed and the cave is dark and remains dimly lit to preserve the drawings. The whole visit felt otherworldly to me. I didn’t want to talk. I just wanted to imagine the artists working in the caves. What were their tools like? What did they wear to keep warm? Did they work alone? What was their intention? I think I was most impressed with the way the artists used the natural features of the cave. For example, the neck of the horse would be drawn around a concave section of rock, so that the horse looked three-dimensional. Beautiful and clever.
Archeologists say the society that created those cave paintings was stable for 8,000 years. Can you imagine? Rome was around for 1000 years. The US isn’t 250 years old yet. Isn’t it crazy to think of 8,000 years?
I feel so lucky — I think I’m still a little stunned that we got to go. : )
Is it just me, or are you moved by this prehistoric art? What’s the number one work of art you would like to see in person?
P.S. — The images above were drawn by Henri Breuil after he visited Font de Gaum.