Art, nature and imaging

Video: Pictures worth a thousand words

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The Museum's collections contain up to half a million artworks. Explore a selection of some of the finest and see how techniques for making a visual record of the natural world have developed since the 17th century.

In the video, Museum researchers and curators discuss the importance of the historical images and the state-of-the-art imaging used today.

Artists and scientists have been inspired by the natural world for centuries. Images capture nature in ways that complement the words and data of science. Illustrations and paintings give instantly understandable and memorable pictures that communicate something of their subject’s essential nature.

But art isn’t the whole picture. Imaging techniques have developed in sync with science so that today we also benefit from advanced photographic tools and incredibly sophisticated imaging technology.

  • Drawing by George Ehret showing magnified reproductive parts of a plant
    17th century to today

    Find out how artists and image makers have worked with scientists to describe and record the natural world since the 17th century.

  • Metal plate engraving before being inked
    Natural history art techniques

    Learn about some of the techniques used over the last 300 years and about the work of 3 modern-day artists in these videos.

  • Cheetah, Acinonyx jubatus, watercolour from the India collection

    Explore some of the Museum’s collections of natural history art from the 18th and 19th centuries, including from the India collection and the voyage of HMS Endeavour.

  • Small tortoiseshell by Maria Sibella Marian, late 1600s
    Women artists showcase

    Enjoy a selection of spectacular illustrations by women, from naturalists in the 17th and 18th centuries to some of the best contemporary natural history artists.

  • Oil painting of tigers by John Charles Dollman
    Animal images

    Take a closer look at works of art showing animals from jellyfish, insects, snails, fish and reptiles, to the most charismatic of mammals.

  • Watercolour of Temminck's tragopan in the John Reeves collection
    Bird images

    What is it about birds that has inspired so many artists to paint them? Maybe it's their plumage or maybe their ability to fly? See what you think.

  • Audubon's American white pelican, Pelecanus erythrorynchos
    Audubon's The Birds of America images

    Marvel at some of the finest bird illustrations by John James Audubon, from his most famous work, The Birds of America.

  • Hand-coloured engraving of the papaya
    Botanical images

    Plants are so important to us that it's not surprising they are featured in so many works of natural history art.  

  • Watercolour of a snowdrop by Arthur Harry Church
    UK species images

    Browse a selection of some of the very best artwork in our collections depicting species and habitats from the UK.

  • Watercolour by the Port Jackson Painter depicting a scene of Aboriginal life
    People and places images

    Voyages of scientific exploration around the world became popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. When they returned, explorers brought with them a wealth of imagery portraying the people and places they visited.

  • Black and white ink drawing of Protoceratops by Neave Parker
    Extinct species images

    Scientific research and artistic representation can help us understand more about the amazing and diverse forms of life that have lived before us.

  • Watercolour of the top of Mount Vesuvius by Peter Fabris
    Geological images

    Art and imagery have been and continue to be very important in the study of geology. From recording individual events, to mapping and describing individual specimens.

  • Scanning electron microscope image of the common wasp Vespula vulgaris
    Modern imaging

    Examine the hidden secrets revealed by tools that help us explore beyond the reaches of our own vision: CT scans, X-rays, electron microscopes and satellite data.

  • Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition

    Browse stunning, award-winning wildlife photographs from one of the most prestigious competitions of its kind.

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Customise and buy art and illustration prints online

Customise a beautiful print from our unique collection of artworks from just £15.

Select an image from the Museum's new permanent gallery, Images of Nature. Choose from a range of options to customise your print and we'll deliver it direct to your door.

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