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 contemporary installations and artworks showing in our temporary India exhibition.
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 final rotation is on display now until the end of February 2014.
Each year the gallery presents a different temporary exhibition on display in four specially renovated original Waterhouse cabinets.
Indian elephant, Elephas maximus, Hardwicke collection, watercolour, pencil on paper, c1800.
The Indian elephant has been domesticated for centuries, used to help with transportation, clearing timber and also in religious and cultural ceremonies. The groom in this painting is standing close behind the elephant, suggesting it was familiar with people. This is one of many illuminating natural history watercolours on show in our temporary India exhibition. It is part of Thomas Hardwicke's extensive collection. Hardwicke amassed his collection while working for the British East India Company, and later bequeathed it to the British Museum.
Cashew, Anacardium occidentale, Artist unknown, Fleming Collection, watercolour circa 1805.
The surgeon John Fleming served in the Indian medical service in Bengal from 1768 to 1813. He was particularly interested in plants with medical or economic value. The Portuguese introduced the cashew into India from South America in the sixteenth century. India has since become the world’s second largest producer. Parts of the plant are also used in traditional Indian medicine.
Garden or field well, Fidlor/Sykes collection, watercolour, c1825–1830.
As part of his survey of India’s Deccan Plateau for the East India Company, William Sykes calculated how much water was brought to the surface each day using this field well. He concluded that it far exceeded the amount extracted by Europeans at the time. Further details, noticeable in the gallery, show the well divided into 20 numbered parts, with English phonetic spelling and an explanation of each mechanism.
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.