An 11 month project has started to unlock an incredible artwork collection originally commissioned by Thomas Hardwicke. Each piece within the collection will be listed, described, measured and a reference image taken. The images are of interest as much for their subject matter as for the art techniques used, including the use of gum arabic on some of the more polished drawings. Many of the species are unidentifed, or the original name has changed since the piece was produced. It is hoped that future research will be facilitated by unlocking this collection in this way; for example, identifying all the species depicted, and looking at whether the collection includes species which have since become extinct. It is hoped that future funding can be obtained to enable the collection to be digitised.
Using a lightbox to see watermarks Measuring each piece
Who was Thomas Hardwicke?
Thomas Hardwicke (1755-1835) was born in England circa 1755. At the age of 22, he joined the Honourable East India Company. Hardwicke rose through the army ranks to become Major-General in 1819, retiring from the army in 1823 and then returning to England.
Hardwicke had a distinguished career in India, during which time he was engaged in military action and travelled extensively over the subcontinent. Early in his career he formed a special curiosity about the Indian wildlife. He started a collection of zoological specimens and amassed a large collection of paintings of animals, insects and birds. By the time Hardwicke left India, he possessed the largest collection of drawings of Indian animals ever formed by a single individual. The subjects covered nearly every group of the animal kingdom.
Hardwicke’s enthusiasm in India was matched by the leading naturalists in England, with whom he corresponded. He also communicated with Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society, and other scientific luminaries. Hardwicke was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1813. Although Hardwicke did not publish many zoological papers himself it was the opportunities that he provided for others that are significant.
Once back in England, Hardwicke collaborated with J. E. Gray, who would shortly afterwards become the Keeper of Zoology at the British Museum. The result was a major folio work, Illustrations of Indian Zoology (1830-35). Gray took the lead, and was responsible for most of the scientific work which was based on Hardwicke’s drawings. Hardwicke provided the finance for the expensive book which had 202 large, hand-coloured plates, but he died before any text was issued.
What does the collection consist of?
Philippine/Sunda/Malayan flying lemur or gliding lemur? Helmeted hornbill?
(Cynocephalus volans or Galeopterus variegatus) (Rhinoplax vigil?)
The Hardwicke collection of drawings has a fascinating history. Part of the collection consists of drawings produced by local artists working in India. In his senior military position, Hardwicke was able to employ artists to produce work that met his specific requirements. Much of what was illustrated was based on dead specimens brought to Hardwicke by collectors from far away. There is plenty of evidence that they also drew living animals. For example the drawing of the chameleon was made from a specimen found in a garden and was observed to change its colour to match its background. Other animals were kept in menageries. The drawing of the tapir, a native of South East Asia and South America was possibly made from a specimen in a zoo. Alternatively it may have been exchanged with another collector or copied from another drawing. In this period natural history enthusiasts would often exchange drawings of animals and plants from other parts of the world to complement their collections. The Hardwicke collection is typical of this practice and therefore includes some surprising images such as an Australian koala and birds from China!
The painting of the Fishing Cat, (Felis viverrina) see below, has the John Russell Reeves crest stamped in the lower right hand corner – a clear indication that it was once in the possession of this famous collector of illustrations of Chinese wildlife.
Fishing Cat (Felis viverrina)
The names of the Indian artists employed by Hardwicke are unknown but undoubtedly most were well trained local artists. They adapted their styles and techniques to the European demands for accuracy in natural history illustration to produce a collection of stunning watercolours. A small proportion of the artwork, including the drawing of the chameleon, is signed 'JH' or 'J Hayes'. Nothing is known about Hayes, possibly he was a European working in India. He had a talent for drawing which Hardwicke undoubtedly appreciated.
Red giant flying squirrel (Petaurista petaurista) Asian or Malayan tapir (Tapirus indicus)
Hardwicke bequeathed his zoological specimens and drawings to the British Museum in 1835. His magnificent collection of natural history drawings and paintings were later divided between the British Museum and the Natural History Museum. The Natural History Museum library holds approximately 4,500 zoological drawings and also houses an oil-painting portrait of Hardwicke by the artist John Lucas (1807-1844).
Some of the drawings from this collection were used on posters for the Natural History Museum in the 1970s.
In 2013 there will be an exhibition of some of the Hardwicke Collection in the Images of Nature art gallery here at the Natural History Museum. The theme for that year is India. To learn more about this gallery and this year's theme visit our website http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit-us/galleries/blue-zone/images-nature-gallery/index.html
Blood pheasant (Ithaginis cruentus) Purple heron (Ardea purpurea)