2020 Open Division: 1st Place

A Tiger in Three Parts

William Piggott

To any aspiring treasure hunters seeking obscure and valuable artefacts, A Tiger in Three Parts may be of some interest. Painted in 1698 by the Spanish artist Francisco Lezorre, it was sold to the nobleman Rafael Cortes the following year. Lezorre is a rather obscure figure, known only as a moderately successful portrait artist with an interest in biological illustrations. Apparently, the work emulated the straightforward style of said illustrations, applying it to the exotic image of a tiger. 

While Cortes’ opinions of the painting were never recorded, several visitors to his estate wrote of it. According to their accounts, it depicted a tiger split cleanly in three, with the back segment consisting of its tail and hind legs, the middle segment its torso, and the front segment its head and forelegs. Each segment was positioned so that the tiger’s exposed innards faced the viewer. One of the stranger elements of the painting was a series of labels corresponding to various parts of the tiger, each in a different language. The only label that remained consistent in all of the accounts was the Spanish word mantequilla (“butter” in English), with a line drawn to one of the tiger’s hind paws.

The Museo de Cortes in Madrid exhibits the various works collected by Cortes in his lifetime. A Tiger in Three Parts is not there. Indeed, the museum contains no mention of the work whatsoever, perhaps to maintain the illusion that it houses all the art Cortes ever collected.

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The next recorded location of the painting was the estate of one Malcolm Fullerton in Foxmouth, England. How it came to be there is uncertain. Fullerton wrote of the painting, but it would seem that he was unfamiliar with the depiction of internal organs, or that smudging confused certain details. Admittedly, neither explanation is entirely satisfactory. 

According to Fullerton’s description, the tiger’s innards were coloured a deep black, formed out of grotesquely large tumours that competed with each other for space. Fullerton reported a shimmering quality to these tumours, as if the paint was still wet. He recorded the labels in full, but by then they had changed, somehow. There were six in total, one in French pointing to the tiger’s eye, one in German pointing to its tail, one in Japanese pointing to its belly, one in Afrikaans pointing to its right shoulder, one in Hindi pointing to its left ear, and one in English, pointing to its left hind paw. If my research is correct, all the labels translate to the same word: leech

Fullerton, as he put it, “tolerated” the painting for one week. Then, he sold it to an art professor named Robert Tullius, who must have sold it on further, though there is no record of the latter sale. 

Today, Fullerton’s Foxmouth estate operates as a museum. Dozens of paintings hang on its walls, but A Tiger in Three Parts is not among them. In its place sits a plaque that reads as follows:

The painting A Tiger in Three Parts by Francisco Lezorre used to hang here. The piece is a minor mystery in art circles, as it has appeared three times across four centuries. First, it was in the home of Rafael Cortes, the nobleman who initially purchased it. After coming here, it fell into the hands of S.S. Officer Hans Herzman during the Second World War. It has since disappeared, the prevailing theory being that it was tragically destroyed.

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As mentioned above, A Tiger in Three Parts’ next recorded appearance was in the home of S.S. Officer Hans Herzman, in 1943. The circumstances through which he acquired it are unclear. Herzman never officially recorded his observations of the painting, but he later spoke about it, and what he said was committed to writing. By then, the painting seems to have undergone another metamorphosis. Herzman claimed that each one of the tiger’s parts ended not in tumours or organs, but a crowd of grey, skinny, staring faces, their mouths agape, their eyes wide and milky-white. He also reported different labels. One, indicating the tiger’s left eye, was in German (“hilfe,” or “help” in English), while another, indicating one of the tiger’s knees, simply read “Alex!” The others all translate into obscenities I would rather not transcribe here.

Herzman despised the painting, so he sold it to fellow S.S. Officer Kurt Schleizmann. Unlike other Nazi officers known to collect art, Schleizmann sold on every piece that came into his hands. While it is logical to assume this fate befell A Tiger in Three Parts, it is impossible to know for sure: Schleizmann was hanged for war crimes in 1947, and the painting was never seen again.

Herzman was also executed for war crimes, but in 1946. Peculiarly, when asked what he would like for his last meal, he instead requested to see the painting. The attending officer was aware of his hatred for the piece and expressed his confusion. Herzman responded thus:

“It is one of those terrible things you are glad to have behind you, and yet, it stirs up something strange in you that nothing else does. Even if it is a horrible experience, you know you have to see it again.”

His request was denied. 

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In 1954, a sculpture was discovered by the faculty of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Perhaps sculpture is an inaccurate term: in actuality, the piece appeared to be a real, taxidermied tiger, segmented vertically into three separate parts at the front and hind legs. Each segment ended, and in the case of the torso began and ended, in a cluster of pale, finger-shaped tendrils. The tendrils appeared to grow roots up through the tiger’s fur in the front segment, pulling back at the skin of its face. A photo of the piece reveals the result: the tiger’s eyeballs were almost entirely exposed, in a strangely human expression somewhere between shock and misery. Upon examination, Francisco Lezorre’s signature was discovered inscribed upon the thing’s belly, with the words A Tiger in Three Parts sitting just above it.

One day in July, a fly flew into the gallery. This in and of itself was nothing abnormal, nor was its landing on one of the white “tendrils” sitting at the end of the piece’s torso. However, the fly was still there by the next morning. By then, two more flies had arrived to accompany it. To the bafflement and disgust of the museum’s staff, more and more flies landed on the piece as the weather grew hotter. All of them came to rest on the tendrils, and none of them made any motion to leave. Some of them actually began to burrow into the tendrils and disappear. The curators were notified, but it didn’t do much good: no one had any idea how to remove the infestation without damaging the piece. A sample was taken from one of the tendrils to determine what could be attracting the flies. The material was found to be simple wool. Nevertheless, the flies kept coming. When asked about it today, representatives of the Metropolitan Museum of Art deny that the infestation had anything to do with the piece’s eventual disappearance. 

As far as anyone knows, that was the last time anyone saw an art piece even vaguely related to A Tiger in Three Parts. However, the strangeness of the piece is accentuated by one final event, which I will include here for the sake of interest. 

On May 18th, 2004, at 6:04 AM, an unidentifiable mass of organic matter washed ashore at Alexander Bay, Wisconsin. The “globster” (as such masses are called) came ashore in three relatively distinct sections. The first saw two long tendrils, perhaps decayed fins, extend from a stubby body. The second was a fairly uniform, almost rectangular blob. The third appeared to be a set of three tendrils slowly rotting together and joining into one point, but could easily have been one tendril rotting and breaking apart into three. All three masses were coloured a very pale green, and roughly strewn with bits of seaweed and flotsam. The first segment was two metres across, the second four, and the third three, totalling nine metres in length. Each mass was at least two metres tall. Observers noted strange cuts across all three masses, exposing the black, fly-infested hollow within. A coast guard helicopter was already in flight, and was therefore called in to observe the globster from above and see if anything out of the ordinary became clearer. It did not. As the helicopter hovered, it observed the words “A Tiger in Three Parts” scrawled across the three masses, sliced into their pale flesh.