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Abbot, Audubon, Catesby, and Wilson: Naturalists in the South
June 30, 2007 - August 26, 2007
Abbot, Audubon, Catesby, and Wilson: Naturalists in the South, featuring prints and paintings by some of the most important naturalist-artists to have worked in the South, will open at the Morris Museum of Art on Saturday, June 30, 2007. It remains on exhibit through August 26, 2007. The works of art have been selected by curator Jay Williams from the Morris Museum's permanent collection.
The tradition illustrated by this exhibition is rooted in the Enlightenment conviction that knowledge should be gathered by making direct observations in the field. Members of Britain's Royal Society and, later, the American Philosophical Society, sponsored studies of nature across the Southeast. Descriptive accounts -- such as A New Voyage to Carolina, by John Lawson (1709), and Travels through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East & West Florida . . . by William Bartram (1791) -- stimulated public and scholarly interest in the South.
During this period of scientific inquiry, Mark Catesby (1683-1749) produced The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands (1731-1743), which included illustrations that, today, are considered fine art.
Sixty years after Catesby illustrated local fauna on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River, John Abbot (1751-1840) selected Georgia as his permanent home and base, where he created more than five thousand watercolor sketches, anticipating Audubon's studies of Georgia and South Carolina bird species by a quarter of a century.
Alexander Wilson (1766-1813) produced his magnum opus, American Ornithology, over the course of several years toward the end of his very active life.
The most famous of the early naturalist-artists, John James Audubon (1785-1851), traveled throughout the Southeast while creating his Birds of America (published between 1827 and 1838). His bird paintings revolutionized natural history illustration with their realism and drama.
The work of Abbot, Audubon, Catesby, and Wilson will be complemented by a selection of original watercolors by Robin Hill, one of the most distinguished contemporary bird painters. During the 1970s and 1980s, he executed an ongoing commission to paint several complete sets of American birds, including Endangered Species; Ducks, Geese, and Swans; Upland Game Birds; Birds of Prey; and Marsh Birds-totaling more than two hundred paintings.
"This exhibition addresses the tension between our regional culture, which often has understood plants and animals subjectively and sentimentally, and scientists, who have taken a more descriptive or taxonomic approach," said curator Jay Williams. "Mediating between these opposing impulses, the naturalist-artists represented in this exhibition endeavored to depict birds and plants with visual accuracy and, to varying degrees, dramatic effect."
On simultaneous view is Suzanne Stryk's installation Genomes and Daily Observations, consisting of her drawings (reminiscent of those of Catesby or Abbot), a naturalist's desk piled with biological specimens, and a mirror imprinted with a section of the human genome. Stepping into the middle of these elements, viewers can explore "the duality between intimate experience of the natural world and high tech science." Her work continues the dialogue that has occupied naturalist-artists since the Age of Enlightenment: how to balance the irrational with the rational, the mystery of life with the quest for knowledge.
Please click here to view the exhibition's gallery guide.
(above: John Abbot, Great Brown Hawk, 1790. Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, Georgia.)
(above: John James Audubon, Carolina Parrot, 1832.
Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, Georgia.)
Editor's note: RL readers may also enjoy these earlier articles:
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and this video:
John James Audubon: The Birds of America is a 29 minute, 1985 National Gallery of Art program directed by Steve York. After bankruptcy in business ventures in the early 19th century, John James Audubon set out on his amazing quest to render the birds of our country. His lifelong dream was realized with the publication of The Birds of America, a magnificent collection of color engravings of his watercolors, and which established Audubon as this nation's preeminent naturalist artist. The video "Traces Audubon's career as a dedicated artist who documented the entire pantheon of American birds and who wrote extensively on nature and the American wilderness. With quotations from his journals and illustrated with his original drawings and engravings, it tells the unique story of Audubon's artistic development and of his uncompromising devotion to his dream of publishing The Birds of America. The works of art are interwoven with live-motion nature photography and footage of sites prominent in Audubon's life and work. with viewer's guide."
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