A Focus On Nature

Books and Reviews

Book Review: The Art of British Natural History

This book is a real treat for art lovers and wildlife enthusiasts alike; the wide array of subjects and styles makes reading through this portfolio of British talent and scientific records quite the learning experience!

As a wildlife enthusiast myself, I really enjoyed this celebration of historical British artists, geographers, botanists and zoologists. The paintings and drawings in The Art of British Natural History by Andrea Hart are a poignant reflection on how the natural world was first documented, in some instances a time before cameras and television when most people were experiencing the world beyond their community through literature and art. It was very interesting to learn about the culture and tradition behind natural history documentation, and really gave me an appreciation for those which recorded the appearance and ecology of wildlife before technology advanced to make this information easily accessible.

I had never considered how art played such a vital role in natural history. However this books allowed me to look at the foundations of modern natural history and learn a few interesting facts about a species which I previously thought I knew well before.

Opening with a comprehensive guide to art in natural history beautifully sets the scene for the many images which ensue in the following pages. This grants an appreciation for the many hours of observing and studying flora and fauna put in by the hundreds of natural historians, as well as the key part which art plays in the formation of modern understanding. My favourite aspect of this book was the way in which much of the art was so detailed, with animals and plants not so much being portrayed artistically, but to a high level of scientific accuracy.

Vanessa cardui, painted lady. John Emmerson Robson (1833–1907). Watercolour on card.

I really do recommend this Natural History Museum publication for anybody with an appreciation of wildlife. Andrea Hart puts quite brilliantly that ‘through ensuring that each new generation is encouraged and inspired to hold an appreciation, respect and regard for the environment, the future of maintaining and sustaining British species diversity will continue’. The Art of British Natural History certainly granted me further appreciation for British species, and I’m sure that it will for other readers too.

Cervus elaphus, red deer. Edward Wilson (1872–1912). Watercolour on paper. 1905–1910.

Amy Hall is a naturalist, conservationist and wildlife photographer. Follow her via Twitter: @AmyHallWildlife and via her blog updates for the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

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