One of my favorite books and inspiration for art is by a German scientific illustrator, Ernst Haeckel, whose works are featured in Art Forms in Nature: The Prints of Ernst Haeckel. The illustrations will draw in me for hours of contemplation. This year, 2019, is the 100th anniversary of Haeckel’s death.
Haeckel had a professorship in 1864 at the University of Jena, and this is where he studied various weird forms of sea life, such as segmented worms, protozoa, and sponges. With such a subject, who would think there is a whole world of intricate beauty to be found?
Haeckel supported Darwin’s controversial theory of evolution, and spoke in well-attended lectures to students and fellow townspeople. He may have influenced more people than Darwin himself, having sold more copies of his scientific work and getting translated into more languages.
In the 1800’s, scientists had to work with primitive equipment. Some of his colleagues accused him of distorting his images in his detailed sketches. His practice was to portray idealized “types” of organisms and thus his representations may not have been completely scientifically faithful. Kunstformen der Natur (1904), plate 43: Nudibranchia
All science aside, his illustrations were works of art. Haeckel, in fact, was originally going to be a landscape painter before he turned his interests to science. His work influenced many later art forms, including lighting, jewelry, furniture, and the gateway to the Paris World Fair in 1900, designed by Rene Binet, pictured below. During his career, Haeckel produced over 1,000 engravings based on watercolors and sketches he made on his travels.
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