Local Lowdown: The Art of Natural History

Posted on Jun 17 by SEASONS Magazine

The Museum of Natural History exhibit includes artwork by Alexander Wilson, Henry Seebolm, Francois-Nicolas Martinet and Jean Baptiste, among others.

See how unlikely teams of artists and scientists observed the natural world when science and art come together this summer at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History’s new exhibition of pieces from a collection of natural history art spanning 300 years.

Natural history art came about as a way of assisting scientists in identifying, describing, classifying and naming species. Naturalists would detail what they themselves had seen in nature—plants, birds, insects, mammals and the like. During the Age of Discovery, these skilled artists were hired to depict the plants and animals scientists had found in the New World.

The Museum of Natural History exhibit includes artwork by Alexander Wilson, Henry Seebolm, Francois-Nicolas Martinet and Jean Baptiste, among others.

The Museum of Natural History exhibit includes artwork by Alexander Wilson, Henry Seebolm, Francois-Nicolas Martinet and Jean Baptiste, among others.

As the sciences developed and became more advanced, so too did these representations of nature. What had begun as a fundamental aid to scientific inquiry became priceless detailed works of art, often incomparable in their craftsmanship and beauty.

The Museum of Natural History exhibit includes artwork by Alexander Wilson, Henry Seebolm, Francois-Nicolas Martinet and Jean Baptiste, among others.

The Museum of Natural History exhibit includes artwork by Alexander Wilson, Henry Seebolm, Francois-Nicolas Martinet and Jean Baptiste, among others.

These works on paper were originally produced by means of copperplate engravings, but by the mid-19th century, lithography had replaced engraving as the primary means of reproducing images in multiples. Numerous examples of which, drawn from the museum’s collection of more than 3,500 engravings and lithographs, can be seen displayed in the gallery.

The Museum of Natural History exhibit includes artwork by Alexander Wilson, Henry Seebolm, Francois-Nicolas Martinet and Jean Baptiste, among others.

The Museum of Natural History exhibit includes artwork by Alexander Wilson, Henry Seebolm, Francois-Nicolas Martinet and Jean Baptiste, among others.

The Art of Natural History is on view at Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History (2559 Puesta del Sol, Santa Barbara, 805/682-4711, sbnature.org) from June 22 to September 3.

Jessica Morelli

This story was originally published in the 2018 summer issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.

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