Paintings by two apes: Böbe and Misi (in Hungary)
A female chimpanzee from Africa has arrived to the Veszprém zoo in October 1963. Director László Kasza soon started with a program of teaching her to draw with color paints on black cardboard sheets. Hungarian broadcast and public communication followed the achievement with regular interest, and the „artist” (named as Böbe, a derivation from Elisabeth) was in fact a most popular figure in Hungarian mass media. A scholarly description of her paintings however was never finished. As far as we can know, Böbe was painting from 19th July 1967, to 10th February 1970. Böbe died on 20th October 1970. After the retirement of the Veszprém zoo director, the interest in Böbe’s work was lost.
On 30th September 1990, in honor of Thomas A. Sebeok’s 70th birthday, an international congress, „Symbolicity” was hold in Budapest, and we decorated the lecture room with the Veszprém ape paintings. We knew of about seventy ape paintings, only with few data about them. I made a „catalogue” of the paintings, classifying the items by formal and practical principles: dots, secondary forms of dots, bars, secondary forms of bars, circles, secondary forms of circles, secondary forms of triangles, squares, free compositions, hard cardboard compositions, compositions on both sides of the cardboard, horizontal action pictures, vertical action pictures, larger pictures. While arranging the paintings for the Budapest exhibition, I found 5 pictures out of different style. While opening the frames, it became clear that another Veszprém ape, Misi (from Michael) was their artist. All the five pictures were made in March 1971. There was no previous written reference in Hungary on Misi’s activity
I published some articles in international semiotic publication about Böbe and Misi, but no summarizing study. Between December 1999 and January 2000 the Budapest zoo organized an international symposium on Animal Art, where I spoke about the two Veszprém chimpanzees. Dr. Kasza spoke about his experiments and there are some color pictures by Böbe. (See: Animal Art, edited by Miklós Persányi, Budapest, 2003. 27-32, 50-53, 77-79.)