Waterhouse’s initial inspiration probably came from scientific illustrations made during various exploration trips at the time, but like a true artist, he stylised his figures and gave them a playful, even mischievous air.
Waterhouse probably based his sketch of the Rhea on one drawn by John Gould following Darwin’s expedition to South America.
This image of the original lithograph of Rhea darwinii, a lesser rhea, was drawn by John Gould following Charles Darwin’s expedition in HMS Beagle. It shows this large bird as Darwin probably saw it in South America in 1833.
The roundel at the end of the first floor balcony bears a remarkable similarity to Gould’s drawing. Scientific artworks were the best way to record new species before the days of photography, and many examples are held in the library.