Ernst Haeckel’s Sublime Drawings of Flora and Fauna: The Beautiful Scientific Drawings That Influenced Europe’s Art Nouveau Movement (1889)

If you fol­low the ongo­ing beef many pop­u­lar sci­en­tists have with phi­los­o­phy, you’d be for­giv­en for think­ing the two dis­ci­plines have noth­ing to say to each oth­er. That’s a sad­ly false impres­sion, though they have become almost entire­ly sep­a­rate pro­fes­sion­al insti­tu­tions. But dur­ing the first, say, 200 years of mod­ern sci­ence, sci­en­tists were “nat­ur­al philosophers”—often as well versed in log­ic, meta­physics, or the­ol­o­gy as they were in math­e­mat­ics and tax­onomies. And most of them were artists too of one kind or anoth­er. Sci­en­tists had to learn to draw in order to illus­trate their find­ings before mass-pro­duced pho­tog­ra­phy and com­put­er imag­ing could do it for them. Many sci­en­tists have been fine artists indeed, rival­ing the greats, and they’ve made very fine musi­cians as well.

And then there’s Ernst Hein­rich Haeck­el, a Ger­man biol­o­gist and nat­u­ral­ist, philoso­pher and physi­cian, and pro­po­nent of Dar­win­ism who described and named thou­sands of species, mapped them on a genealog­i­cal tree, and “coined sev­er­al sci­en­tif­ic terms com­mon­ly known today,” This is Colos­sal writes, “such as ecol­o­gy, phy­lum, and stem cell.” That’s an impres­sive resume, isn’t it? Oh, and check out his art—his bril­liant­ly col­ored, ele­gant­ly ren­dered, high­ly styl­ized depic­tions of “far flung flo­ra and fau­na,” of microbes and nat­ur­al pat­terns, in designs that inspired the Art Nou­veau move­ment. “Each organ­ism Haeck­el drew has an almost abstract form,” notes Kather­ine Schwab at Fast Co. Design, “as if it’s a whim­si­cal fan­ta­sy he dreamed up rather than a real crea­ture he exam­ined under a micro­scope. His draw­ings of sponges reveal their intense­ly geo­met­ric structure—they look archi­tec­tur­al, like feats of engi­neer­ing.”

Haeck­el pub­lished 100 fab­u­lous prints begin­ning in 1889 in a series of ten books called Kun­st­for­men der Natur (“Art Forms in Nature”), col­lect­ed in two vol­umes in 1904. The aston­ish­ing work was “not just a book of illus­tra­tions but also the sum­ma­tion of his view of the world,” one which embraced the new sci­ence of Dar­win­ian evo­lu­tion whole­heart­ed­ly, writes schol­ar Olaf Brei­d­bach in his 2006 Visions of Nature.

Haeckel’s method was a holis­tic one, in which art, sci­ence, and phi­los­o­phy were com­ple­men­tary approach­es to the same sub­ject. He “sought to secure the atten­tion of those with an inter­est in the beau­ties of nature,” writes pro­fes­sor of zool­o­gy Rain­er Will­mann in a new book from Taschen called The Art and Sci­ence of Ernst Haeck­el­, “and to empha­size, through this rare instance of the inter­play of sci­ence and aes­thet­ics, the prox­im­i­ty of these two realms.”

The gor­geous Taschen book includes 450 of Haeckel’s draw­ings, water­col­ors, and sketch­es, spread across 704 pages, and it’s expen­sive. But you can see all 100 of Haeckel’s orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished prints in zoomable high-res­o­lu­tion scans here. Or pur­chase a one-vol­ume reprint of the orig­i­nal Art Forms in Nature, with its 100 glo­ri­ous prints, through this Dover pub­li­ca­tion, which describes Haeckel’s art as “hav­ing caused the accep­tance of Dar­win­ism in Europe…. Today, although no one is great­ly inter­est­ed in Haeck­el the biol­o­gist-philoso­pher, his work is increas­ing­ly prized for some­thing he him­self would prob­a­bly have con­sid­ered sec­ondary.” It’s a shame his sci­en­tif­ic lega­cy lies neglect­ed, if that’s so, but it sure­ly lives on through his art, which may be just as need­ed now to illus­trate the won­ders of evo­lu­tion­ary biol­o­gy and the nat­ur­al world as it was in Haeckel’s time.

via This is Colos­sal

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Two Mil­lion Won­drous Nature Illus­tra­tions Put Online by The Bio­di­ver­si­ty Her­itage Library

16,000 Pages of Charles Darwin’s Writ­ing on Evo­lu­tion Now Dig­i­tized and Avail­able Online

New Study: Immers­ing Your­self in Art, Music & Nature Might Reduce Inflam­ma­tion & Increase Life Expectan­cy

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Annebelle Kramer says:

    In the Nether­lands, espe­cial­ly in Ams­ter­dam, 3 young archi­tects who found­ed the Ams­ter­dam School archi­tec­tur­al style (1910- 1930 give or take) Designed the beau­ti­ful Schip­ping House (today the 5 star Amrath grand hotel Amsterdam).Joan van der Mey, Michel de Klerk and Piet Kramer. A lux­u­ries office build­ing for six ship­ping com­pa­nies in Ams­ter­dam, it was build between 1913–1916 and 1926–1928, over­all costs around 35 mil­lion guilders.…My grand­fa­ther Piet Kramer was one of the archi­tects, and for inspi­ra­tion he brought along his copy of Kun­st­for­men der Natur by Ernst Haeck­el (“Art Forms in Nature”).…many of the draw­ings were used as inspi­ra­tion for tex­tile wall cov­er­ings, wood carv­ings and most impres­sive stained glass all over the building…When in Ams­ter­dam one can book a tour in this mon­u­men­tal build­ing via the Amrath.…given by me by the way :)

    kind regards Annebelle Kramer

  • Jim McCue says:

    Thank you, Annabelle — next time! What a splen­did thing for you to do. Greet­ings from Lon­don — Jim McCue

  • Carrell Ebert says:

    Dear Annabelle,

    Thanks for shar­ing all this with us! We will be in Ams­ter­dam for 10 days in July, 2020. Our grand­son will be going to the Ams­ter­dam Film School for a week course and I think we would all love this. Is this tour still avail­able?

    Car­rell Ebert

  • Bonnie Massey says:

    I bought a Dover pub­li­ca­tion of some of these prints back in the late 1960s—and there read that Haeck­el did rough draw­ings of his sci­en­tif­ic observations—then hand­ed them over to an un-named Art Nou­veau pro­fes­sion­al artist—perhaps more than one–to tweak the draw­ings to the degree of fin­ish we now admire—he was the sci­en­tist behind the art­work which he then pub­lished. Have I been mis­tak­en in my under­stand­ing all these years? This under­stand­ing caused me to feel free to use his prints as inspi­ra­tion for works I then did in clay—feeling free to allow my imag­i­na­tion the kind or rein that the Artists he hired obvi­ous­ly used.

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