Look who’s thumbing their nose at the British (Empire)

The Tipu Tiger (aka Tippoo’s Tiger) was made between 1782-1799

Who doesn’t like a bit of under-dog irreverence? One of the V&A’s highlights, the Tipu Tiger, taunted the British Empire in the most hilarious way.

Automatons are the forerunner of modern robotics. Ideas for building them dated back to the Ancient Greeks with mathematician and inventor extraordinaire Archimedes. Automatons resurfaced in popularity in 18th Century Europe, which makes it no surprise that one of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s highlights is a semi-automaton; semi because the ‘Tipu Tiger’ operates on a hand crank.

Carved from wood and nearly life size, the Tipu Tiger depicts a tiger mauling a European (hmmm British Empire, anyone?) soldier. As the crank rotates, gadgets inside the tiger trigger the unlucky White Man’s hand raised in self-defense as he gasps in horror, moaning in his agonizing and violent death!

Who was the Tiger?

Meanwhile the ferocious tiger – symbolising Tipu’s Southern Indian Dynasty – growls from an 18-note (yes, the tiger hits eighteen notes) pipe organ roaring from within the tiger’s throat. A flap on its side allows someone to open the tiger up and play the organ. Tipu’s Tiger was clearly built by the most talented tinkerer in the land. The Tipu Sultan, the ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore in India, even had his soldiers dress in Tiger-clad uniforms, he took the ferocious emblem so seriously.

Emulating the Mughals, the British hunted tigers. This was a symbolic defeat of Tipu Sultan and all those who dared to stand up to British Empire domination! Possibly not the smartest move: In 1792 a Briton named Hugh Munro savagely met his death in a tiger attack in the Bay of Bengal; his father, Sir Hector Munro was a division commander during the Second Anglo-Mysore Battle (1780-1784). It was this battle which had defeated Tipu Sultan’s father. Understandably, by the time Tipu came around, he had a major chip on his shoulder about the British.

Sultan Tipu of Mysore, 1790-1800, V&A Collection

For Sultan Tipu the tiger striking down the European represented his symbolic triumph over the British – until, of course, the East India Company soldiers stormed and pillaged Mysore in 1799, pillaging their treasures — and killing Sultan Tipu. The British soldiers pocketed many of the sumptuous tiger treasures (From plates and tea sets to gilded door knobs, crowns and the Sultan’s throne) for themselves, as well. That the Tipu Tiger was only made of wood and served no real purpose, was its saving grace.

The Tiger’s arrival to London

Upon arrival to England, the Tipu Tiger was wildly popular & displayed at the East India House on Leadenhall Street from 1808. The public was even able to play the soldier’s wailing and tiger’s grunting with the crank-handle turns. Flaubert, bored on his visit to London for the 1851 Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace, wrote of his visit taking a turn for the better when he ventured up to Leadenhall Street to see the Tipu Tiger! 

East India House, by Thomas Malton the Younger (1748-1804), watercolour over etched outline. Courtesy of the Paul Mellon Collection, Yale Center for British Art, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut (which has a great collection)

We’re looking at converting a treasure hunt so you can play at home. We’d greatly appreciate any and all suggestions for how you could picture playing with our treasures, such as the Tipu Tiger! To rack up bonus points, our in-person V&A treasure hunters were requested to imitate the attack, the videos of which were a great hit with corporate team building, especially!

What automaton would you design to chronicle our times? Perhaps a bunch of humans chatting in front of their computer screens on zoom?

Image Credit:

The Mona Lisa is perhaps the most famous painting in the world, one of the most recognised and copied.

It currently hangs in the Louvre, where it is believed that 80% of the 10.2 million visitors go specifically to view the masterpiece. Brewminate suggest it was painted sometime between 1503 and 1519, and it is Leonardo Da Vinci’s seminal work that set a standard for artists that have come since.

The perspective might not seem unique today, but it set a precedent that many portrait artists began to adopt. The sitter’s position mostly turns toward the viewer, which broke convention in Italian art at the time. Now, it is the most commonly used portrait profile, which only adds to the paintings allure and influence.

The identity of the subject is widely debated, with one theory being that it is a self-portrait, but with Da Vinci disguising himself as a woman. Another popular train of thought is that it is Lisa del Giocondo, the wife of the Florentine merchant Francesco di Bartolomeo del Giocondo. Sigmund Freud believed that the subject was in fact the artist’s mother, Caterina.

After emerging from his studio in 1519, the painting passed to King Francis I of France, in whose court Da Vinci spent the latter years of his life. For centuries, it remained in French palaces, on display only for kings and queens, but was claimed by the people during the French Revolution between 1787 and 1799. After a short stint on Napoleon’s bedroom wall, it found its way into the Louvre at the turn of the 19th century, where it has remained ever since.

Or rather, where it has almost remained ever since. In 1911, the painting was stolen from the gallery causing a media sensation. People even visited the gallery to see the space where the great masterpiece had once hung – such was the furore. The museum’s director of paintings resigned and some famous names were linked with the theft. The poet French poet Guillaume Apollinaire was arrested, as was Pablo Picasso. Gala Bingo explain how the famous surrealist was strongly suspected of stealing the Mona Lisa, but both were false leads which failed to result in the painting being returned.

Indeed, it was two years later that a Florence art dealer reported a man had tried to sell him the painting, leading to its discovery in a trunk belonging to Vincenzo Peruggia. He was arrested and imprisoned and the Mona Lisa went on a brief tour of Italy before returning home to France, where she has remained ever since.

During World War II, she went on another tour, this time of the French countryside. Having been singled out as the most-endangered piece of art in the Louvre, the painting was spirited away and hidden in various locations to prevent destruction or capture. In 1945 she adorned the walls of the Louvre once more, but has toured New York, Washington, Tokyo and Moscow in more recent times.

The painting has been analysed using modern techniques in recent years, revealing a sketch underneath which was likely used by Da Vinci to create the painting. Others believe there are two works of art under the Mona Lisa, both of which were unfinished.

The allure and attraction of the painting continues to thrill and excite today, and it is well worth a visit if you do intend to add the Louvre to your next Paris itinerary.

Paris in the Movies: Ten Films Set in the City of Lights

As a former Parisian stuck in the North of England, I’m doing everything I can to bring Paris to me. From reading books set in Paris to trying to embody the Parisian lifestyle at home. But sometimes you need to actually see Paris in order to transport yourself. Here are my top five movies set in Paris (and where to watch them online).

Psst! Several movies set in Paris were featured in our recent post on the best French movies of all time. So we’re sticking with English language films here.

1)     Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen’s 2011 film Midnight in Paris is generally considered one of the director’s greatest films in recent years. It stars Owen Wilson as Gil, a successful yet unfulfilled Hollywood screenwriter, on holiday in Paris with his materialistic and selfish fiancée. Every night at midnight, Gil travels back in time and cavorts with the ex-pat writers and artists of the 1920. Clearly, it’s a plot which would have been simply ridiculous in the hands of most other directors. Here, it works surprisingly well and is miraculously done with very little cheesiness.

Available on YouTube, Google Play and Amazon Prime Video

2)     Taken

There have been so many second-rate knock offs of Taken since it was released in 2008 that it’s easy to forget how good the original is. The film stars Liam Neeson as an ex-CIA agent turned suburban dad. For most of the film, he’s on an action-filled rampage through the suburbs of Paris, exercising his “very particular set of skills” to look for his daughter, who has been abducted by sex traffickers. Look – no one is denying it’s a cheesy action film. But as cheesy action films go, it’s one of the best (and I’d go as far as to say it’s one of the best English-language movies set in Paris too!).

Available on YouTube, Google Play and Amazon Prime Video

3)     An American Werewolf in Paris

An American Werewolf in Paris is a truly silly film. It’s the sequel to the (just as silly) 1981 comedy-horror An American Werewolf in London, released 16 years earlier. And, apart from the setting, it follows largely the same plot. However, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of silliness – particularly right now. The Paris movie tells the story of Andy, an American tourist visiting Paris with two friends. Given the title, I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that at least one of them is transformed into a werewolf before the credits roll. Both films are basically gore-fests, so don’t watch if you’re squeamish. But they’re also both enjoyable in that good-bad movie way.

Available on YouTube, Google Play, and included with an Amazon Prime Video subscription

4)     Les Misérables

There’s not much to say about the epic musical historical drama Les Miserables that hasn’t already been said. I will say, though, that even if you’re not a fan of musicals generally, you may just find this movie – set in Paris and its surroundings at the time of the French revolution – enjoyable nonetheless. The show-stopping musical numbers are what drew the crowds when the film opened in 2012. But the period costume and setting, dramatic plot (based on Victor Hugo’s novel, widely considered to be one of the greatest novels of the 19th century), and talented ensemble cast all played their part in ensuring the movie’s success.

Available on YouTube, Google Play and Amazon Prime Video

5)     An American in Paris

The Hollywood classic, An American in Paris stars Gene Kelly as Jerry, an exuberant, struggling expat painter trying to make a life and career in Paris. Naturally, he falls in love with the young (and spoken-for) French ingenue, Lise, played by Leslie Caron. What follows is a silly but fun romp of singing, dancing, and frolicking. Modern critics tend to say (perhaps fairly) that the film doesn’t stand up to Kelly’s next musical, Singin’ In the Rain, which was released the following year. But hey – there are much worse ways to spend a couple of hours watching Gene Kelly dance through the streets of Paris.

Available on Youtube and Google Play

Your favourite movies set in Paris?

Did we miss anything? Let us know your favourite movies set in Paris, or shots of Paris in the movies in the comments! And if you’re hungry for more movie content, check out our posts on the best French films, best films about art, and best travel movies, here on the THATMuse blog.

Both Paris and London are cities with a huge number of recognisable, famous landmarks. Show most people a photo of Tower Bridge or the Eiffel Tower, and they’re likely to know what they’re looking at.

Both cities also have their share of landmarks that have been lost to time. For example, the huge Tuileries Palace in Paris was burned down during the Paris Commune of 1871.

In this post though, we’ll discover five London and Paris landmarks which were almost destroyed, but lived to tell the tale. With a bit of luck, when the current crisis is over and we can wander the streets of Paris and London once more, we’ll appreciate what we have.

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Did you see Stephanie Blaser’s Impressionism-inspired feast when we posted it a few weeks ago? She shared recipes for fish in foil, accompanied by a side of summer vegetables, roasted in the oven, and both inspired by Impressionist paintings.

Delicious! But we can’t help thinking that it left us just a little hungry for dessert…

Well, long-time friend of THATMuse, Élodie has us covered with this recipe for madeleines, inspired by Francois Boucher’s painting, Family Taking Breakfast. Yum!

Chocolate and Coffee Madeleines, inspired by François Boucher’s Family Taking Breakfast

The Painting

François Boucher’s Family Taking Breakfast, 1739: A peaceful breakfast scene in an affluent household in the 18th century.

In this manifesto of bourgeois life, François Boucher shows life in the time of King Louis XV: the attire with lace and silk, the Rocaille style décor… and the clear taste for the exotic.  

Do you see that little figure on the shelf? It’s a magot, a small grotesque figure of Japanese or Chinese style, which were popular at the time.  You might have heard of Les Deux Magots, a famous café in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris, which is named for two of the same type of figurine which live there.

Other hints at this taste for the East are the vase on the console on the left, and the fine porcelain, probably from China, on the red lacquer table.

As for the contents of that china, there have been endless talks about the drink that is being served in this painting. Is it hot chocolate? Or coffee? The hot serving pot, at the exact center of the painting, could be used for either drink. Neither the hot pot or the cups indicate what drink they were intended for, so art historians will have to continue to fight on this one!

Perhaps it was coffee: after all, King Louis XV was a keen coffee drinker, who even had coffee trees planted at Trianon. Both coffee and chocolate were imported from far away, and were therefore expensive and trendy. Tableware like the serving pots and cups we see in this painting was created for these new, exciting products.

But there’s something else unusual about this painting, which we don’t really notice nowadays. At the time it was painted, showing such an image of domestic intimacy and including children was very modern. It’s interesting that mothers – not nannies – are looking lovingly at the children, and that they even have toys made for children (the little horse, the doll).

As for my favourite part of the painting: I love the little detail on the child on the bottom right. She is wearing a bourrelet: a padded headband intended to protect the head from bumps and falls!

The Recipe

Bakes 24 mini madeleine cakes


  • 80g butter (1/3  cup or  ¾ stick)
  • 2 eggs
  • 100g granulated sugar (1/2 cup)
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 120g all-purpose flour (1 cup)
  • 4g baking powder (1/3 tablespoon)
  • 50g chocolate chips (1/3 cup)
  • 12 tbsp instant coffee (could be replaced by 3 tablespoons of coffee extract, or for a different flavour, vanilla extract)


  1. Gently melt the butter in a saucepan.
  2. Add the eggs, sugar and salt to a bowl and briskly stir to bring the batter to a smooth, almost foamy consistency.
  3. Add flour and baking powder, and the melted butter, and stir briskly again. Add chocolate and coffee (save a few chips and 2 spoons of coffee for presentation). Stir and refrigerate for an hour.
  4. Pre-heat the oven to 230°C (450°F). Take the batter out of the fridge, give it a stir (if it’s too hard, add a tablespoon of milk).
  5. Grease the inside of the madeleine molds with butter and flour. Turn molds upside down to get rid of any excess flour.
  6. Fill the molds, not completely to allow rising. Add leftover chocolate chips and coffee powder on top for decoration.
  7. Cook for 10 minutes in the oven.
  8. Take out of the mold immediately and let cool on a cooling rack
  9. Enjoy!
I took my own family porcelain out for the photo, and placed it in front of my wallpaper which represents Paris in the 1730s, exactly when the painting was created. And of course I chose the Louvre detail for the backdrop, a wink to the place where you can now see the painting!

Élodie Berta is a travel trade pro and licensed guide in all of France. As head of the MICE division of marketing for the Paris Tourist Board, and knows the Louvre and Paris like the back of her hand. We’ve been lucky enough to have Élodie as a friend of THATMuse for many years, since Élodie attended her first THATMuse (then THATLou) hunt at the Louvre in 2012, when we launched the Skull Scouting theme. Élodie tweets about all things Paris at @Paris_by_Elodie.

By Stephanie Blaser

When it comes to cooking, inspiration can come in many forms. And what better form can we look to than art, which is itself a feast for the senses? Today, we are turning to still-life paintings from two 19th Century friends and founders of the Impressionist style – Édouard Manet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir – for our culinary inspiration.

This is the first of two posts written by friends of THATMuse about recipes inspired by art! Want the next post direct to your inbox? Sign up to our mailing list!

1. The Main Course: Fish in Foil, Inspired by Édouard Manet’s Fish (Still Life)

Fish (Still Life), 1864, Édouard Manet, Art Institute of Chicago

The Painting

Though not one of Manet’s most famous works, this painting is a good representation of the artist’s interest in the still life genre. During the early 1860s, the interest in nature morte  (‘dead nature’, as the French say) as a genre was waning, due in large part to a growing middle class, with different tastes. However, Manet’s still lifes are anything but morte, with the vigorous brushstrokes and diagonal placement of the carp making this one appear full of movement. Unlike his more famous works, Manet never submitted still lifes to the Paris Salon, but instead sold them to independent galleries or gave them away to friends.

The Recipe


8 ounces of thick, firm white fish per portion (Black Sea bass, cod, or halibut are great choices)

  • 1 bulb fennel – thinly sliced
  • 2 carrots – cut into matchsticks
  • 1 shallot – diced
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 Tbs. butter
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Cilantro (optional)


  1. Sautée carrots and fennel in olive oil 3-5 minutes or until slightly softened. Add shallot and continue sautéeing 2 more minutes. Transfer ½ cup of the vegetable mixture to the center of a large piece of cooking foil.
  2. Place a portion of fish on top of the vegetable mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Top with a pat of butter, uncooked fennel fronds, two slices of lemon, and a sprig of cilantro (optional).
  3. Fold cooking foil to create a tight seal around the fish. Place pouches on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees (Fahrenheit) for 20-22 minutes.
  4. Cut cooking foil to release steam. Then carefully remove fish and vegetables from the foil. Serve over rice.
Fruits of the Midi, 1881, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Art Institute of Chicago

2. On the Side: Roasted Vegetable Medley, Inspired by Fruits of the Midi by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

The Painting

One of the fathers of the Impressionism movement, Pierre-Auguste Renoir is most famous for works such as Dance at Le Moulin de Galette, depicting quick snapshots of life, full of energy and movement. However, as this painting shows, he was also skilled at still lifes, injecting them with vibrant light and saturated color. Aren’t these delicious-looking summer vegetables just crying out to be roasted?

The Recipe


  • 1 eggplant (aubergine) – cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 onion – remove outer skin, cut in half, then cut into 1-inch slice
  • 1 zucchini (courgette) – cut into 1-inch thick rounds
  • 1 red or yellow bell pepper – remove seeds and inner membranes, cut into 1-inch strips
  • 1 tomato – cut into 8 wedges
  • ¼ C. olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • ¼ Tsp. dry basil (optional)
  • ¼ Tsp. dry rosemary, crushed (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 400 °F (200 °C).
  2. Arrange vegetables in a single layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add basil and rosemary, if desired.
  3. Roast uncovered for 20-25 minutes, turning once.

So there you have it! An artistic feast, inspired by Impressionist art.

Hungry for dessert? Well, you’ll just have to keep an eye on the blog…

Chicago residents Stephanie and her husband John are foodies who love both making divine dishes they share on Facebook to travelling for world-renowned restaurants… So it should be of no surprise that when they came across THATLou they chose our Food & Wine hunt, which we built for both foodies travelling to Paris as well as for the American contingent of expats who were tuning into their Thanksgiving roots in November.

According to an article on the British Museum blog in 2017, the most popular seach term on their website was “Egypt”. This isn’t very surprising, but the second most popular term, “shunga” is more interesting. But what is shunga? And why are so many people searching for it? Well, shunga is a type of Japanese erotic art. The British Museum hosted a great shunga exhibition in 2014, which perhaps goes some way to explain the search term. 

In this post, we’ll discuss the history of shunga, and the influence it had on later artists around the world. But first, a warning. Since we’re talking erotic art here, this post does of course contain some content that is decidedly NSFW.

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Lockdown getting you down? Join me for a brief tour through the history of French cinema, as we share some of the best French movies of all time. Of course, there are far too many excellent French films to list in one short blog post. But I’ve put together a selection of my favourites.

All of the French films listed here are available to watch online for not much than the price of a café au lait, and for your viewing convenience, we’ve included links to where you can watch them.

I’ve also divided my selection into three rough categories: the best Classic French movies, the best of French New Wave Cinema, and the best French films of the 2000s.

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Most people know that the Ancient Greeks invented democracy, and the Olympic Games. Ancient Greek philosophers and Greek tragedies are famous all over the world, and mythological stories from Ancient Greece still fascinate and inspire us today. But you may not know how much of the technology we rely on today is thanks to the inventions of Ancient Greece. In this post, we delve into the world of Ancient Greek technology, to learn about some ancient inventions that we still use in our daily lives.

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For as long as there has been VR technology, there have been half-excited, half-scaremongering think pieces proclaiming that a new age of tourism has begun. Physical tourism is out, and “virtual tourism” is in. Well, we haven’t quite reached the stage where a vacation mean a trip to the living room. We haven’t given up on visiting museums in favour of touring them with only a VR headset.

But, since we’re all more or less marooned at home at the moment, it is useful to know that museums have, apparently, been preparing for the apocalypse all along. From basic functions allowing you to explore museum collections online using their websites to fully-fledged virtual museum tours, there is a way to see all five of our museums online, from the comfort of your own home.

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What do you think of when you picture life in Ancient Greece? Philosophy? Wine? Drinking parties? The Olympic Games? Well, you’re not wrong. These were all important parts of life for the people of Ancient Greece.

But there’s something missing from the picture: women. The women of ancient Greece had far fewer rights than men. They couldn’t vote, they couldn’t participate in drinking parties and their main role in life was to raise their kids.  As children, young Greek girls were under the authority of their father. And after marriage, their husbands became their official guardians.

But how did the life of Ancient Greek women change from childhood to maturity? Were there exceptions? And what did their daily life look like?

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London might have more iconic landmarks than any other city in the world. Big Ben, Tower Bridge, St Paul’s Cathedral and the London Eye are all instantly recognisable to people all over the world, even if they’ve never so much as changed flights at Heathrow. A lot of this is down to film and TV. Hundreds of establishing shots of London’s skyline have fixed it firmly in the public imagination. Let’s have a look at some of the most famous London film locations. And once the lockdown’s over, you can go and find them yourself!

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