Musk Deer

May 09, 2011



I have a bit of a fascination with the sense of smell: how we use it in our daily lives, it's profound effects it can have on evoking memories, and how we have harnessed elements from the natural world for hundreds (perhaps thousands) of years to create scents to attract a mate. I'm a big fan of natural perfumers like Mandy Aftel. She's a unique artist, and has written extensively about the history of perfume and its use of various natural ingredients. And boy...have we used some strange sources for our scent hankerings: ambergris (waxy, musky smelling substance produced in the digestive system of sperm whales), civit (obtained from glands of civit cat), oak moss (type of lichen), and musk deer (musk extracted from gland of male). I've been wanting to do a little series of paintings based on various "sources" for natural perfumes. This first one is of a male musk deer. I love the fanged males. It used to be that the males were killed (boo) for their caudal gland, and this was used in musk scents. Now, there are synthetics that can reproduce this scent (yay). In an ideal world this would eradicate the hunting of these mysterious, and primitive animals, but unfortunately there is still a high black market value for the glands.

2 comments:

  1. Very interesting stuff...I do know a Persian story about a musk deer who went insane trying to find the source of the wonderful smell that turned out to be himself...symbolic I think...I live in France where perfume is still very a la mode. Grasse is the capital of French production. I've never thought too much about this though. But you're right, it really is a fascinating subject. Nice illustration!

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  2. I've read about Grasse's long history with the perfume industry, and always wanted to visit to tour one of those old perfumeries. I never used to give it much thought either, but as shown by your example of the musk deer fable, there are many interesting facets to it.

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