Swift Fox, from John James Audubon, The Quadrupeds of North America, 1849-54.

         V: The Grandeur of Nature, 1800-1860

When the nineteenth century dawned, natural history had been a serious discipline for several hundred years, marked by the appearance of many attractive studies, as we have witnessed in the exhibition so far.  But between 1800 and 1860, the discipline moved up to a new level.  Not only did we have more investigations into the flora and fauna of more places, such as Africa and Australia, but the quality of the publications, and especially of the images, far exceeded earlier efforts.  John Thornton’s exquisite Temple of Flora led off the century, followed by the mammal and bird compilations of Prideaux Selby, John Gould, and John James Audubon.  Part of the appeal of these works lay in the skill of the artists, and part came from the application of new techniques of printing, such as aquatint, stipple engraving, and lithography.  The result was a collection of beautifully illustrated volumes that appear as extraordinary today as they did 150 years ago.  Nature had never seemed so grand.

Linda hall Library