Luc Jean-François DebeckerWorld’s oldest art gallery

Published in 1978icon-clockTime to read: 0min 56s

Recognizing the window that European cave paintings open on prehistoric lifestyles and beliefs, Luc Jean-François Debecker has spent decades documenting the world’s oldest “art galleries” - the caves where Stone Age peoples recorded early life.


Forty thousand years ago, the Stone Age people living in Europe painted the animals of their time on cave walls with astonishing realism and skill, turning them into unrivalled art galleries featuring this ancient art. The wall art of the Palaeolithic period alone covers some 20,000 years of art history, with paintings found in France among the earliest dated paintings in the world.

Thanks to their talents for observation and imagination, Stone Age people produced the most important art gallery of all time and the most amazing museum of animal life ever created.

Belgian-born industrial surveyor Luc Jean-François Debecker, from Switzerland, was hooked on prehistoric art from an early age. As a teenage schoolboy nearly 70 years ago, he began exploring cave art in Europe and later decided it would be useful to have a comprehensive guide to as many caves as possible, including maps and photographs indicating where the paintings were located and what they depicted.

For two decades after winning one of the first Rolex Awards for his study of the European cave paintings, Debecker continued to document prehistoric art in his spare time. He visited 150 caves in Europe and North Africa, and took more than 5,000 photographs of Stone Age art, all of which he put on a CD-ROM and made available to interested parties. He also created a group for prehistoric cave art to link specialists around the world.


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