Pictures tell a thousand words: Natural History Museum displays art collection for the first time in a dedicated new permanent gallery

Press release - 24 January 2011

The Natural History Museum today threw open the doors to Images of Nature, the Museum’s latest free permanent gallery, showcasing the best of the Museum’s art collections. The Museum is home to the world’s largest collections of natural history artwork on paper, amounting to more than 500,000 pieces, some of which are more than 300 years old.

The Natural History Museum today threw open the doors to Images of Nature, the Museum’s latest free permanent gallery, showcasing the best of the Museum’s art collections. The Museum is home to the world’s largest collections of natural history artwork on paper, amounting to more than 500,000 pieces, some of which are more than 300 years old.

Images of Nature boasts the very best of the collection, and many pieces have never been on public display before. Exploring themes such as observation, recording, modelling and inspiration, visitors can indulge their passion for natural history, botanical illustration and scientific investigation.

Judith Magee, curator at the Natural History Museum said, ‘From the earliest drawings to the latest digital photography, nature has inspired many artists, and natural history images are valuable for both artistic and scientific study, as many of the works in the gallery demonstrate. The collections we care for at the Museum are some of the finest in the world, and the new gallery is the perfect place to showcase our highlights, some of which date from the seventeenth century.’

Each work on display has huge scientific importance and provides intriguing scientific insight, examples include:

  • Savery’s oil painting of a dodo –  the Museum’s first Superintendent, Professor Richard Owen, used this to scientifically describe the extinct bird. Owen placed the bones over the painting and his interpretation, published in 1866, became the dodo’s recognised scientific description.
  • Dodo Raphus cucullatus – a painting of a slimline dodo showing a very different idea of the bird’s shape to the instantly recognisable round, plump bird we all know and love. A new commission from Museum palaeontologist Dr Julian Hume, this is displayed alongside Savery’s world famous image
  • Great bustard, little bustard and houbara bustard – at more than two metres by one-and-a-half metres, Keulemans’ impressive painting is one of the largest in the Museum’s collections. Keulemans had no formal training, but taught himself by observing and drawing animals in the wild
  • Confocal micrographs of the parasitic worm, Buddenbrockia plumatellae – researchers are using these striking images enlarging the one millimetre-long worm to find out more about where it fits in the animal kingdom.
  • X-ray of mummified saker falcon, Falco cherrug – X-rays have allowed scientists to see through the outer layers of an ancient Egyptian mummy and examine the bones and body tissues inside.

Peronel Craddock, Interpretation Developer for the gallery said, ‘Pictures capture nature in ways other methods cannot. Visual records were, and still are, an important element of scientific study and scientists often rely on a drawing or photograph to help them describe and classify specimens. Images of Nature reveals how scientists interpret, understand and explain the natural world through pictures and images.’

The Museum’s collection features works by some of the most eminent artists, including the prolific bird illustrator John Gerrard Keulemans and lifelike botanical paintings by Georg Ehret. A temporary exhibition of Chinese botanical and zoological watercolours commissioned by the nineteenth-century East India Company tea inspector John Reeves forms the focus for the gallery’s first temporary exhibition programme, with displays changing every three months. Works by a Shanghai-based contemporary artist, inspired by the collections from China, also features in the gallery.

 

Visitor information
Admission:
free
Dates and times: opening 21 January 2011
10.00–17.50 (last admission 17.30)
Visitor enquiries: 020 7942 5000 Monday–Friday
020 7942 5011 Saturday–Sunday
Website: www.nhm.ac.uk

Ends

Notes for editors

  • Winner of Visit London’s 2010 Evening Standard People’s Choice Best London for Free Experience Award and Best Family Fun Award the Natural History Museum is also a world-leading science research centre. Through its collections and scientific expertise, the Museum is helping to conserve the extraordinary richness and diversity of the natural world with groundbreaking projects in more than 68 countries.
  • The Museum is very grateful to the many organisations and individuals who have contributed to this project for their generous support, without which the new gallery would not have been possible, including:
    • The Monument Trust
    • DCMS/Wolfson Foundation Museum & Galleries Improvement Fund
    • Lady Clarke, Chair of the 2009 Gala in support of the gallery and the Gala Committee
    • The late Charles Herbert Bottoms
    • Maurizio and Janet Dwek
    • Sir Siegmund Warburg’s Voluntary Settlement
    • Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851
    • Foundation for Sport & the Arts
    • The John S Cohen Foundation
    • JP Marland Charitable Trust
  • As a recognised charity the Natural History Museum depends on the generosity of our visitors, members and friends for vital support. Your   involvement can make a huge difference to the life of the Museum. To find out how you can contribute to future gallery redevelopments and other important Museum projects please visit the Museum’s website www.nhm.ac.uk/take-part or call the Development Department on 020 7942 5953.