Decoration

Richard Owen insisted that the Museum be decorated with ornaments inspired by natural history, to reflect the contents inside. Waterhouse obliged by adorning the entire building, inside and out, with fantastic terracotta animals and plants.

Terracotta animals

A key part of Owen’s plan was that living and extinct species should be kept separate – extinct in the east wing and living in the west.  Owen was separating extinct species from living at a time when Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution focused on the link between them.

Sketches of extinct animals

The split between species past and present is most evident on the outside of the building, though it can be seen inside as well. These extinct creatures are on the eastern side of the building.

Sketches of extinct animals

The theme of separating living creatures on the western side, and extinct creatures such as these to the east, is reversed in the wall decorations of the east and westbound platforms of the Piccadilly line at South Kensington.

Sketches of living animals

Ornaments of living plants and animals are to be found to the western side. Each was carefully sketched before being reproduced in terracotta.

Sketches of living plants

Waterhouse wanted to achieve scientific accuracy in his ornaments, but each is a work of art in its own right. These sketches are for the 'living' western side of the Museum.