The pictures from my last post on the Coolidge Reservation do not convey one of its major features: what remains of the many geese that obviously enjoy the Ocean Lawn as much as other visitors. I remarked upon this to the ranger who was stationed there, and he laughed and told us that they brought in a fox to keep the geese away, but after a while he gave up and left……the geese won. The parable of the fox and the geese and their adversarial relationship is an old one, even older than the fox in the hen-house I think, and it has inspired centuries of illustrations, decorative objects, and games, all featuring the hunter and the hunted or the geese somehow outfoxing the fox; in either case, the two parties are inevitably intertwined, in one way or another.
British Library MS Harley 4751, English Bestiary, 1230-40; Fox and Geese in the Tudor Pattern Book, Bodleian Library MS Ashmole 1504, 1520-30.
It looks like the fox is winning in these two pre-modern images, and he definitely has the upper hand in most representations of the relationship, at least until the creation of a succession of satirical views from the later eighteenth century onwards.
Johann Heinrich Tischbein, A Goose and a Gander Honking in Alarm as Foxes Approach, mid-18th century, Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Goose Lost (a caricature of British politician Charles James Fox), published by J. Barrow, 1784, British Museum.
Porcelain and pottery with fox-and-goose motifs were also produced around this time, including rather elaborate pieces for extensive table services and the popular ABC and proverbial plates for children. Talk about intertwined: look at the gravy (sauce) boat below!
Meissen Porcelain Cup and Saucer, c. 1760, Sterling and Francine Clark Institute; AMAZING Staffordshire Fox and Goose Sauce Boat, c. 1780-1790, and Transferware Plate, 1790, Victoria & Albert Museum, London; Creamware Fox and Goose ABC Plate by Elsmore & Son, England, late nineteenth century.
Children’s books published in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, whether fables, nursery rhymes, or bedtime stories, feature a variety of illustrations of foxes and geese, generally on friendlier, or at least less predatory, terms. And then there were the fox-and-goose games of strategic pursuit, played on a board, in the parlor or even outside, which date back to the seventeenth century at the very least. Textile designs in the past and present feature fox and geese continuously, in abstracted patterns for quilting and knitting, and more literal prints for fabrics and wallpapers.
Fox and Geese board game, Gloucester, Massachusetts, 1993, Smithsonian Institution, and pieces from a modern version of the game; Westfalenstoffe fox and geese fabric.
My favorite images of these two natural enemies are a bit more basic and elemental, in line with the medieval and Tudor images above. The realistic, rather than romantic relationship was captured completely by John James Audubon in the nineteenth century and The National Geographic more recently: these are elemental and eternal images.