Browse some of the highlights of Images of Nature. The gallery's images are chosen from the Museum's extensive collection of natural history artworks and illustrations.
Get a glimpse of the permanent and temporary exhibits in the gallery, from our iconic dodo paintings and modern scientific images to the first rotation of Indian artworks and contemporary installations on show until June.
This elegant gallery showcases some of the Museum's world-famous historic paintings, illustrations, photographs and modern scientific images.
The artworks span more than 350 years and are arranged by theme, such as observation, recording, modelling, mapping, questioning and inspiration.
At the displays you can learn how scientists and artists observe and record the natural world, from oil paintings to digital images and geological maps. The colourful display above demonstrates a variety of scanning electron microscope (SEM) images and other modern imaging techniques.
The Dodo, Raphus cucullatus, c1626. A gallery must-see, this iconic 17th century oil painting of a dodo is attributed to the Flemish artist Roelandt Savery. Discover how the Museum’s first Superintendent, Richard Owen, used it to scientifically describe the extinct bird.
The Savery painting hangs next to a modern interpretation of the dodo in acrylic by artist and Museum scientist, Dr Julian Pender Hume.
In the temporary exhibition this year we show our 18th and 19th-century India collection of paintings and drawings. The current first rotation is on display until the end of May.
Each year the gallery presents a different temporary exhibition on display in four specially renovated original Waterhouse cabinets.
Indian pangolin, Manis crassicaudata, Fidlor/Sykes collection, watercolour, 1827
This image of a pangolin is one of the illuminating natural history watercolours in our temporary India exhibition. The nocturnal, insect-eating pangolin is the only mammal with large overlapping scales. These work as protective armour when the pangolin rolls up into a tight ball in response to threats.
The pangolin was drawn by artist Llewellyn Fidlor as part of Major William Sykes' statistical survey for the Bombay government, documenting the Deccan Plateau's natural history.
Voodoo lily, Typhonium venosum, Hardwicke collection, watercolour, 1796
Thomas Hardwicke spent several years stationed at Dum Dum, home of the East India Company’s Bengal Artillery. When off duty, he studied and collected natural history specimens. By the end of his life he had amassed one of the largest Indian natural history collections ever, including this watercolour of a voodoo lily. The plant produces a potent, unpleasant odour to attract pollinators such as the carrion fly.
Purple-faced langur, Trachypithecus vetulus, Bevere/Loten collection, watercolour, 1752–1757
This image from the India collection was painted by Pieter Cornelius de Bevere and is described as being ‘drawn after the living animal’. It shows a monkey unique to Sri Lanka, which today is classified as an endangered species due to loss of habitat and illegal hunting.
Somewhere Between Living and Dying, acid-free watercolour paper and graphite, 2013
The gallery shows 3 newly-commissioned works from contemporary Indian artist Sunoj D. These new pieces are a modern response to the Museum's historic India collection artworks.
In his intricate, giant scroll drawing, measuring 3m by 1.5m, Sunoj D depicts over 500 plants overlapping. It is inspired by the Museum's 17th-century publication Hortus Malabaricus (Garden of Malabar), which documents 742 medicinal plants found in Malabar (now Kerala) and is also on display.
The Remains of the Soil From the Land Where the Sun Never Set, donated flower pots, site-specific installation, 2013 (work in progress)
In his provocative installation of 416 flower pots, our contemporary Indian artist-in-residence Sunoj D references the British Empire's extensive global reach during the 19th century. Each donated flower pot once housed a plant, which is now lost. Sunoj D says the artwork is a comment on our relationship with the soil in urban environments and the Museum, where he says 'everything exists in a state of suspended animation, nothing lives'.
Permanent displays in the gallery also show modern scientific images like this Buddenbrockia worm cell's nuclei (red) and muscles (green), revealing the tip of a parasitic worm photographed under a confocal laser-scanning microscope. The bright colours are from staining dyes that glow under the microscope to show different depths in the worm's miniature body. Today, scientists still use illustrations for reference, but these sit alongside a range of technological methods for recording nature from scanning electron microscopes to satellites.
Giant tortoise, Geochelone sp, Bryan Kneale. Chalk on paper, 1986.
Over the centuries, artists and zoologists have studied and drawn animal skeletons to increase their understanding of anatomy. Artist Bryan Kneale developed this tradition by conveying energy and character to his subjects. This example of his work in chalk is a haunting depiction of a giant tortoise.
Neale was Professor of Sculptures at the Royal College of Art and created a series of bone drawings from specimens in the Museum collections whilst there.
Discover how natural history art and imaging techniques have developed since the 17th century and explore selected Museum artworks.
Enjoy 200 years of beautiful Indian natural history art from the Museum's vast collection in our new book, The Art of India.