Friday 21 September 2012

Taxidermy: The art of death

The macabre art of taxidermy is certainly a bizarre one. The eerie displays are a familiar feature of many museum collections in England.

The practice of taxidermy, in one form or another, is an ancient activity, rooted in religion, and later scientific and naturalist study. Like so many other things, it was the Victorians who embraced taxidermy with true passion, and made taxidermy an art form, and a fashionable one.

Taxidermy became a way of immortalizing the spoils of hunting for sport, and preserving them for posterity. Today, there are moral implications in the killing and 'collecting' of rare animals, however in Victorian society it was the boom in biology, botany and zoology, and a general curious fascination for life which fueled the popularity of taxidermy.

Taxidermy collections still posses a strange fascination, and the ability to evoke many different reactions, from disgust and discomfort, to interest, and the appreciation of viewing creatures in such detail.  Having seen a number of taxidermy collections over the years, it is unsurprising that one of the finest Ive ever observed was at the Natural History Museum, London.
A vast array of animals were on display, from Tigers and Gazelle to Rooks, Barn owls and Chickens. The most curious were two hares arranged as if engaged their famed bizarre mating behavior, boxing, displayed suspended in a large glass case (below).

Everything about the Natural History Museum feels wonderfully Victorian, from the glorious Victorian brick of the Waterhouse building, to the collections themselves and the large focus upon the role of Charles Darwin in advancing natural science. It is an encouraging thought that even in the modern world, people have managed to retain that great curiosity in nature and endless thirst for knowledge which the Victorians gave us.

Thursday 20 September 2012


The most spectacular collection of insect specimens I have ever seen is housed in the
cocoon like building of the Darwin Centre at the Natural History Museum.
The collection showcases the history of our understanding of the natural world and the impact which famous naturalists, such as Charles Darwin, have had on our knowledge and understanding of the world.

The specimens on display throughout the cocoon are a visually fantastic feast. The chance to observe, and photograph the insects for my art reference files was an invaluable opportunity. From moths and butterflies to beetles alienesque insects, the vast array of specimens on display were beautifully delicate and wonderfully inspirational.
I have always enjoyed studying insects, however seeing these weird and wonderful creatures up close was an important and incredibly rewarding experience. If you are interested in advancing your knowledge and understanding of the natural world, I urge you to visit the Darwin Centre!

Natural History Museum

Having never visited the Natural History Museum before it was certainly a long overdue experience. My lifelong love of nature, and its influence upon my art is very important, so the opportunity to visit a the museum at last was seized enthusiastically.

The buildings facade was certainly an impressive, breath-taking one. Known as the Waterhouse Building, after its visionary architect Alfred Waterhouse, the Victorian building is a fantastic example Waterhouse's work, and of German Romanesque architecture in England.

The interior of the building is no less impressive than the exterior, with grand arched doorways, high ceilings and most impressive of all, countless unique stone carvings. Waterhouse has skillfully woven the purpose of the building into its very fabric, with the beautiful stone carvings of various flora and fauna. These charming creatures can be found throughout the building hiding in dark corners and lofty places, often overshadowed by the exhibits themselves, my favourites were the bats.
Waterhouse said that he 'hoped that the Gothic revival would be more than a mere revival - that it would turn from a revival into a growth.', which is a noble statement, and demonstrates Waterhouses commitment and dedication to the beauty of Gothic Revival architecture in Victorian England.