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March is the month of women. With International Women's Day, The World of Women festival on London's Southbank and Mother's Day all packed in, the Museum shop is celebrating by bringing you some beautiful yet scientific gifts for Mother's Day. A great example is Images of Nature: Women Artists bringing recognition to women who have contributed and changed the course of natural history. So, let's take a closer look at some brilliant female pioneers.

 

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The Images of Nature Gallery is currently showing works from the women artists featured in the book above.

 

The scientific revolution did little to bring a new age of women scientists. Still seen as a lesser form than men at the time, they were not afforded the right to education and were encouraged to be home schooled instead. Lepidopterist and diarist Margaret Elizabeth Fountaine (1862-1940) wrote:

 

The education of women was so shamelessly neglected, leaving the uninitiated female to commence life with all the yearnings of nature unexplained to her.

 

Very few women managed to make a name in their own right. Most had to make do with being assistants to their husbands, brothers or fathers and even then, their interest was seen as a hobby rather than a vocation. The introduction to Images of Nature: Women artists tells us:

 

Few women had the access to the advantageous opportunities provided by the scientific community, so for the majority any involvement in science was in an amateur capacity only.

 

This exclusion from the scientific field only made women more determined to become part of it. Jeanne Baret found a way with a ruse that would be at home in a Shakespearean plot: in 1766 she became credited with being the first woman to circumnavigate the globe after joining explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville's expedition as an assistant to the ship's naturalist while dressed as a man.

 

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Although Beatrix Potter was famous for her children's books, she failed to gain scientific recognition for her groundbreaking study of fungi.

 

The importance of the artist.

Without the invention of photography, artists became very important in helping to document and label new species. The need to share information about new discoveries and theories meant that scientific illustration became an invaluable and much needed craft. The job brought with it the excitiment of travel and discovery.

 

The aim of scientific illustration is to give an accurate portrayal of its subject. Linneaus called for a more strigently accurate depiction showing the structures of the plant and fruit to allow for easy identification.

 

The 20th Century saw more women being hired to colour illustrations for text books and journals. It also saw their male counterparts earning a higher income for the same job along with gaining a higher accolade. The Museum holds many paintings signed by women whose history and heritage are impossible to trace.

 

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Margaret Fountaine: despite her concerns for the lack of educational opportunities for women, she went on to become a lepidopterist.

The ladies who broke the mould.

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717): She was an extraordinary person who went on a self funded, two year voyage into the unknown territory of the Dutch colony Surinam. It is her painting that is featured on the front cover of Images of Nature: Women Artists. Merian was an entomologist who studied the lifecycle of insects. Her work was often labelled as botanical due to the stunning accuracy and beauty of the detail she captured in the host plants of her subjects.

 

Marianne North (1830-1890): She was a lone traveller who collected many samples for Kew Gardens. Despite this, she never gained recognition for her work.

 

Margaret Fountaine (1862-1940): She collected over 22,000 butterflies. It was her wish that her notebooks, diaries and collection were embargoed until 15 April 1978; 100 years after she began lepidoptery.

 

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Like many female artists, the creater of this painting, Mrs C W W Bewsher, went by her husband's, rather than her own, name.

 

Sarah Stone (1760-1844): An early zoological artist. Her artworks of exotic birds, many unknown to science at the time, remain important to this very day. Her work is thought to be the only surviving evidence of specimens once held in the Leverian Museum.

 

Jane Colden (1724-1766): Possibly the first American-born female botanist. She collected and documented plants in New York. Her accompanying notes to her line drawings show the medicinal uses of plants and method of administration favored by local people.

 

Grace Edwards (fl.1875-1926): Unofficially employed by the Museum's entomology department to prepare illustrations and models of specimens. She produced some remarkable illustrations of African bloodsucking flies which show the skill needed to be a scientific illustrator.

Three ways to treat mum from the Museum:
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From spotting exotic butterflies in the just-opened Sensational Butterflies exhibition out on the Museum's East lawn and examining real beetles in the Darwin Centre to discovering the most perfect thing in the Universe - the egg, or is it chocolate(?) - in a free talk, there’s heaps on for all ages at the Museum over the Easter holidays.

 

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You can book free timed entry tickets for the Dinosaurs gallery if that’s what you’re planning to visit. But, if things get too busy in that area of the Museum, find your way to the Darwin Centre where kids will enjoy doing our Quest for the Curious challenge, and head over to the Red Zone on the other side of the Museum to enjoy the awesome Earth galleries and more amazing dinosaur displays in From the beginning (note, the earthquake simulator is offline at the moment while our Power Within gallery is closed for refurbishment).

 

 

Get a sneak peek inside the tropical butterfly house of Sensational Butterflies in the video above.


quest-curious-1000.jpgJoin in the Quest for the Curious challenges (above) at our week-long Easter free event for all the family.

 

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How about doing your very own dodo trail? You'll find this iconic creature features in quite a few places in the Museum, including in the highly topical Extinction exhibition, the Birds gallery and in our recently-opened Treasures Cadogan Gallery (there's one more place too, but I'll leave you to discover it).

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And look out for the 416 flower pots installation in the Images of Nature gallery as part of our India contemporary art exhibition.

 

Check our What’s on and What’s on for kids sections for the details of what to do during the holiday period, and follow NHM_Visiting on Twitter for updates on queues.

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Our Blue Zone's Images of Nature gallery welcomed a new temporary Australian-themed exhibition yesterday, showcasing the Museum's impressive 18th-century First Fleet collection of watercolours and drawings.

 

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‘Mr White, Harris and Laing with a party of Soldiers visiting Botany Bay Colebee at that place, when wounded’, Port Jackson Painter/Watling collection. Watercolour, c1790–1797.

 

The British First Fleet arrived in Port Jackson (now Sydney) in January 1788, when 11 ships carrying about 1,400 people landed to establish the first penal colony. Among the sailors and convicts on board were draughtsmen, artists and forgers. They painted and drew the new landscape, its wildlife, and the Eora Nation clans who inhabited the area. Despite their lack of scientific accuracy, the images in the First Fleet collection are some of the most important in the Museum, providing a snapshot of a key moment in Australia's history. They are beautiful, telling images that provide rare natural history and ethnographic records.

 

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Left: Waratah, Telopea speciosissima. Port Jackson Painter/Watling collection, watercolour, c1788–1797. The waratah is New South Wales' official floral emblem. Right: Southern cassowary, Casuarius casuarius. George Raper, watercolour and ink, 1792. This cassowary lives in the rainforest of northern Queensland.

 

In the first rotation of 32 First Fleet artworks on display now, you'll find gems like the cassowary and the well-known Waratah (above), official floral emblem of New South Wales, along with stranger-looking species like the Large pretty pink-winged stick insect below. There are also striking portraits of local tradesmen in the collection - often with dramatic stories to tell. The next selection of First Fleet artworks will be installed in the gallery in April.

 

The 600-strong First Fleet collection came into the Museum as three smaller ones known as the Raper, Watling and Port Jackson Painter collections after the artists whose work they contain. The drawings attributed to the Port Jackson Painter are thought to be the work of several unidentified artists.

 

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Above. Large pink-winged stick insect, Podacanthus typhoon. Thomas Watling, watercolour and ink, c1792–1797. There are almost 150 species of stick insect in Australia.

 

The perspective of the Aboriginal Australian people who had been invaded, however, was not recorded in the First Fleet works. So our temporary exhibition features two newly-commissioned installations by Aboriginal artist Daniel Boyd whose provocative work comments on that ommission.

 

At the end of last year Daniel spent several months as an artist-in-residence here at the Museum researching and creating the pieces that are on show in the gallery now. He was putting the finishing touches to his installations last week.

 

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Above: Australian Aboriginal artist Daniel Boyd unveils his Up in Smoke Tour installation in the Images of Nature gallery. Watercolours, 24 Museum archival boxes. Right, installation detail.

 

Daniel's work comments on the loss of native cultures recorded in the First Fleet collection, particularly on the British perception of Port Jackson at the time and the Aboriginal Australian people. It's the way these historic images obscure the original indigenous identity that interests the artist. His work in the gallery has also been inspired by the Museum's anthropological collection and he features Museum specimen boxes in his installations.

 

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An earlier work by Daniel Boyd. We Call Them Pirates Out Here, 2006, oil on canvas. The work is kept in Sydney's Museum of Contemporary Art collection.

 

Daniel joins today's free Nature Live talk about The Art of the First Fleet (7 February) in the Attenborough Studio. And so too does the Museum's special collections librarian Lisa Di Tommaso, whose book explores The Art of the First Fleet. So pop along to the Darwin Centre's Attenborough Studio at 14.30 to hear and see more of these fascinating works first-hand.

 

Browse the Images of Nature gallery slideshow

 

Explore the First Fleet collection online

 

Watch artist Daniel Boyd on video discussing his new artwork and cultural background

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Spring is almost here, judging by the sudden sallying of daffodils in southern gardens and last week’s rattle of hooves from far-off Cheltenham, but Spring means we have said a sad farewell to Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year for this season.

 

However, that is absolutely no reason not to join us on Friday night for After Hours, when we are opening up the highly engaging Sexual Nature exhibition until 22.30.

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Feel the buzz of the Sexual Nature exhibition (above) and the Central Hall (below right) at our After Hours on Friday 25 March. Select images to enlarge them.

central-hall-after-hours.jpgWe’ll have our usual bars and jazz in the Central Hall for you to enjoy a wind-down at the end of the week, and Sexual Nature is the perfect exhibition to visit at night.

 

There’s also an opportunity to view our new Images of Nature gallery and the stunning Cora Sun-drop diamond, on display for a limited time in the Vault. And you can take part in an intriguing discussion in the restaurant – ‘The Science of the Sexual Spectrum’ At the discussion you can enjoy a drink and join speakers Peter Tatchell, Jeffrey Weeks and Qazi Rahman to try to unravel some of the science behind our sexuality and the social implications and history of its study. I've just heard this event is now sold out, so put the next After Hours Discussing Nature event in your diary, The Laws of Attraction on 29 April.

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At February's After Hours, I tripped around (OK, stalked) some groups of late night visitors to our Sexual Nature exhibition, to see how they were finding it. I was thrilled to see just how much they were enjoying the exhibits, particularly one fascinated group stood around the mounted foxes (left), trying to work out (with air diagrams) how the two foxes had got themselves physically into their position. ‘I think he mounts her doggy style and then turns around to secure his place as primary mate’ was the confident if baffling view of one young gentleman.

 

I spotted another couple standing arm-in-arm contemplatively and romantically in front of the female spotted hyaena, who is certainly geared up to be primary mate in her own love life as well as in her pack. Other people were thinking very deeply about animals’ sexual behaviour in a way they hadn’t before. ‘It’s just the more you know, the more your childhood thoughts of animals change,’ end-display.jpgwas the view from a group of young women who were having an animated discussion in front of one display, possibly now conscious that the prototypes for Winnie the Pooh, Tigger and indeed Eeyore, amongst others, all had potential love lives of which their readers were previously unaware.

 

So why not come along for yourself this Friday evening and get yourself up to speed on such matters as well!

 

Sexual Nature exhibition images: Mating foxes taxidermy display (above left) and the human sexuality display at the end of the gallery (right). Select images to enlarge them

 

Take a peek at some of the displays in our Sexual Nature highlights slideshow

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If you were fast enough off the mark to have got a Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition ticket at this Friday’s After Hours on 28 January (tickets have now all gone), you will have the opportunity to see some spectacular wildlife photography.

 

But there are more ways than one to capture images of the natural world – and people have tried to represent the natural world for thousands of years, going all the way back to early cave paintings. The Museum holds the finest natural history art collection in the world,  more than 500,000 pieces. Now for the first time, we are putting some  of our collection on permanent public display, in our brand new Images of Nature gallery which opened to the public on 21 January, and you can experience some of these unique images in this gallery at After Hours. Entry is free.

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Located near the entrance to the Darwin Centre, past our Dinosaurs galleries, Images of Nature is sited in what used to be the Spencer Gallery, now beautifully refurbished and back as a public space for the first time in some 20 years. You can cut through it to access the Darwin Centre by the Attenborough Studio and Interactive wall, although I am sure you will want to linger in the space.

 

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I asked Peronel Craddock, the Senior Interpretation Developer responsible for the Images of Nature interpretation to tell us more about what you will find in the gallery.

 

‘Images of Nature is a beautiful, visual exploration of how artists and scientists see the natural world. We're displaying highlights from our world-famous natural history art collection, from 17th century oil paintings, to exquisite watercolours, to contemporary illustration - many of which have never been on display before. Alongside these are images from modern science, showing the enormous range of tools and techniques scientists now have to observe and capture nature.’

 

Peronel says that one of her favourite stories in the gallery features the dodo - two paintings side-by-side, one 17th century, one 21st century that challenges our preconceptions of the dodo as a clumsy, slow-moving bird..The 21st century dodo painting by Museum scientist and artist Dr Julian Hume is shown here.

 

‘Many staff from the Museum have been involved in this project - from renovating the gallery space to planning and building the exhibition, so it's fantastic to see the doors now open and visitors enjoying the gallery. I hope that it will open people's eyes to the diversity of the collections held here, and the fascinating scientific stories behind the art.’

 

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We have the first in our rolling temporary displays within the gallery – some of the beautiful illustrations from the collection of John Reeves, the East India Company’s China based tea inspector and amateur naturalist who commissioned Chinese artists to paint the natural history around them.There are many botanical illustrations included such as this Camellia japonica, 1812-1831, pictured left.

 

Unlike the always charmingly calm and collected Peronel, the Images of Nature launch and the upcoming launch of our new bonkbuster exhibition Sexual Nature (catch it at After Hours from February) have left me with the same ‘in the headlights’ expression sported by the ruffled lemur in the Reeves collection (main image, above). I am looking forward to restoring myself this Friday with one of our new green apple, passion fruit or banana bellinis, available at all of our bars at After Hours. Do join us if you can.

 

Find out what's on at After Hours

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Besides Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year and Images of Nature, we are running two showings of our very new and very special interactive film, Who do you think you really are? in the Attenborough Studio. And the gloves are off at Science Fight Club, the last in our fascinating Discussing Nature events as our scientists do battle on some important topics. Who will you back to win?

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What nicer way to start the new year than with the unveiling of a lovely new permanent gallery at the Museum.

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Images of Nature opens in 2 weeks time on 21 January and I've just had a sneak peek at the elegantly refurbished gallery, pictured here.

 

Many of the displays and paintings are now in place, the lighting is getting its final adjustments and, although the John Reeves Collection of Chinese watercolours is yet to be installed in its impressive cabinets, the gallery space is looking beautfully grand and nearly complete.

 

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'We're just finishing the installation of the touch objects which have to be anchored to the gallery surfaces, and testing is underway for the interactive kiosks' says Peronel Craddock, Interpretation Manager for the gallery, explaining that 'because the John Reeves Collection paintings are so sensitive to light, these will only be added at the last minute.'

 

As I wander the length of the gallery, I pass by themed areas on either side, such as Inspiring, Recording, Observing, Mapping, Draw it, Modelling, and the majestic cabinets that will house the Reeves Collection.

 

One amazing oil canvas stands out, the huge Great Bustards, Little Bustards (left) by the prolific bird illustrator John Gerrard Keulemans. It literally reaches up from the bottom to the top of the gallery wall.

 

Here are a few more installation snaps of the work in progress in the gallery. Select them to enlarge.
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Last week we announced our big attractions for 2011 to the press.


It's going to be an exciting and busy year for us all - we'll have a new permanent gallery in January, our Sexual Nature exhibition opening in February, and the Age of the Dinosaur family blockbuster knocking us jurassic-wards from April.

 

The new permanent Images of Nature gallery will showcase over 110 images of, strangely enough, nature. Among the diverse paintings, illustrations, photographs and modern scientific images, will be 2 very different dodo paintings.

 

 

Watch this video and discover how Dr Julian Pender Hume's newly-commissioned painting of the dodo, Raphus cucullatus, differs from Roelandt Savery's 17-century masterpiece.

 

Both paintings feature together in the new gallery. You can see this dodo video and explore more fascinating dodo details at one of the interactive kiosks in the gallery.

 

hu-yun-500.jpgImages of Nature will also include a temporary exhibition of Chinese watercolours from the Reeves collection and some beautiful contemporary drawings, shown right, from our Shanghai-based artist-in-residence (inspired by the Chinese collection).

 

Discover more about Images of Nature

 

Moving on from the lovely to the lascivious, Sexual Nature opens just in time for Valentine's Day, on 11 February. As you can imagine we're all getting very steamed up about this one. And very happy to welcome Guy the gorilla to the centre stage of the exhibition - as a 'superb symbol of male masculinity' says the press release.

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Guy was last seen at the Museum on public display in 1982, having been donated to us in 1978, following his death earlier that year. Guy was a hugely popular character at London Zoo for over 30 years.

 

Find out about Sexual Nature and book tickets

 

Read the news story to learn more about Guy the gorilla and the Sexual Nature exhibition

 

We've only just announced Age of the Dinosaur - it doesn't open until the spring - but this is going to be BIG and much more of a themed adventure than some of our usual exhibitons. So watch out for more details.

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In the meantime, catch the current exhibitions before they close. Amazonia finishes next week on 12 December and Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year in early March next year.

Above: Guy the gorilla takes pride of place at our forthcoming Sexual Nature exhibition
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Today, 4 October, we can give you the first glimpse of a selection of the commended images from this year's competition that will be on show at the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2010 exhibition.

 

Click here to see a slideshow of the selected commended images.

 

The exhibition opens on 22 October and the Waterhouse gallery is currently being adorned with this year's spectacular images we all can't wait to see.

 

For now, feast on this wonderful photo story that is specially commended in the new Wildlife Photojournalist of Year Award. The award is for six pictures that tell a memorable story, whether featuring animal behaviour or environmental issues. The story is called 'The House in the Woods' by Finnish photographer Kai Fagerstrom.

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Kai Fagerstrom. From his series 'A House in the Woods'

 

Here's what Kai says about the series of 6 photos: The sun’s last rays bounce off the old windowpanes, as though a fire roars within. But this old  house near Salo, Finland has long  been deserted. The roof has holes, the walls are crumbling and draughts hiss through the windows. But as darkness falls, the house comes alive. It was a waiting game for the yellow-necked mouse. ‘Many days passed before conditions were right, and the setting sun threw shadows on the peeling, textured wallpaper,’ Kai explained. The raccoon dog puppy dropped by at the same time every night. He paused by the half-open door, sniffing the air. ‘The light was perfect and, a moment later, he melted back into the night.’ The pygmy owl seemed to know the house well and wasn’t happy about Kai’s  presence. ‘It seemed to stamp its foot and say, “Go away, this is my place”, so I went.’ Red squirrels often build their dreys inside abandoned homes, and so Kai was not in the least surprised  to discover one inside the house. ‘I love the fact that it is looking out of the window,’ he said, ‘as though expecting guests to arrive any minute’. The badger cubs were born in a sett under the floorboards, and the fireplace was their entrance to the house. Taking the picture through the window, Kai wanted to give an impression of the badger family going about its daily business. ‘Badgers hardly feature in Finnish folklore and people don’t realise what fascinating characters they really are.’

 

And here's another little favourite of mine, Tim Laman's Night Eyes, which has been highly commended for the competition’s Gerald Durrell Award for Endangered Wildlife.

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