Sunday, January 12, 2014

Old Drawings and Etchings

"Humans who spend time in the wilderness, alone, without man-made mechanical noise around them, often discover that their brain begins to recover its ability to discern things."
                                                                                                                       - Robert Anderson

From original illustrations by Mrs. J.C. Melliss for her husband's book
on the natural history of the island of St. Helena, 1875. Courtesy of the British Library.

The British Library recently announced that they have added over a million images to their Flickr Photostream from their collection of 17th, 18th, and 19th century books. Many of these images are of natural history subjects and are exquisitely drawn. I don't have the patience that these artists had, nor their technical and fine observational skills, but I could spends countless hours looking at their work. If you are an old drawings and etchings enthusiast, you might enjoy checking this new resource out.

From original illustrations by Mrs. J.C. Melliss for her husband's book
on the natural history of the island of St. Helena, 1875. Courtesy of the British Library.

The other thing about this work that intrigues me is what went into their creation. These artists went on expeditions for months or even years to paint and research. Often the final work was done back home from collected specimens, as well as meticulous notes and field sketches, but many of them were painted in situ under challenging circumstances that we modern artists probably can't fully imagine.

Illustration from 1855 of New Zealand moths.
No artist listed. Courtesy of the British Library.

All of the images are downloadable from the British Library's site and free for anyone to use, so think of the creative possibilities!


Ken Januski said...

So just what is wrong with a lot of man-made noise, Gabrielle?! Just kidding of course. I wonder if people even know that there is such a thing as a world that is not full of man-made noise. And just how refreshing it is. I did a bird count a few years ago in a light snowfall and no one else around. It was the most amazing quiet. Who knows at some point people may be willing to pay to have such an experience.

A beautiful collection of drawings, etchings, etc. My wife happened upon an old print in a thrift store the other day that looked a bit similar. Her first reaction was that the bird looked like a flycatcher. I at first though vireo but then realized that she was probably right in thinking flycatcher. Then I saw the obvious sassafras leaves. So it almost certainly was an American artist rather than British. So I searched for 'flycatcher and sassafras' and immediately got the same image: Green-backed Flycatcher by Audubon. When I saw Green-backed I figured it might be what we call Acadian, the most common flycatcher of our locale, and sure enough that's what it was.

I've had the most enjoyable time trying to figure out the IDs of these old prints she's collected over the years. Almost all of them look a lot like what you've shown here. I'll have to take a look at the Flickr stream.

Gabrielle said...

Don't you love old natural history drawings and prints? I'll have to look up the Audubon print you mentioned.

Your opening sentence made me laugh! Being alone in the woods during a light snowfall is indeed the most amazing quiet. So peaceful! Even just thinking about it is soothing. Back in September I saw Robert Bateman speak about how nature-deprived we are becoming. I think you would've really enjoyed his talk.

Ken Januski said...

Hi Gabrielle,

I'm sure you're right about enjoying the Bateman talk. I still am not the biggest lover of his work but I find I'm always in agreement with him about appreciating nature. He seems to be a powerful spokesman for how much is there and how much we're in danger of losing it.