From Audubon to Darwin

By Robert M. Peck, Curator of Art and Senior Fellow of the Academy

John James Audubon would be pleased to see his name on the large banners that have hung across the columned facade of the Philadelphia Museum of Art since late October.

In the museum’s new exhibition of American still life painting, the 19th-century artist-naturalist shares top billing with the 20th-century pop artist Andy Warhol. Both men are among the talented artists who taught Americans how to carefully look at the world around them.

The Academy of Natural Sciences, where careful looking has been a guiding principle for more than 200 years, is a lender to the Art Museum’s pioneering exhibition “Audubon to Warhol: The Art of American Still Life.” As visitors enter the exhibition they will see three Carolina parakeets from the Academy’s world-renowned ornithology collection.

These are the actual specimens that Audubon himself collected and prepared for study in 1843. In a case nearby, another Academy loan shows two of the now extinct parakeets perched on a tree branch, much as Audubon would have seen them in his lifetime.

Audubon’s bird skins are not the only Academy specimens on loan to another major Philadelphia institution. At the other end of town, some of the fossils once owned by Thomas Jefferson, and usually housed in our vertebrate paleontology collection, are on view at the American Philosophical Society in an exhibition devoted to America’s third president who, like Audubon, was a member of the Academy.

The Academy's Audubon Carolina parakeet specimens currently on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The Academy’s Audubon Carolina parakeet specimens currently on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Photos by Carolyn Belardo
Audubon mounted these now-extinct Carolina parakeets so he could draw them true to life.
Audubon mounted these now-extinct Carolina parakeets so he could draw them true to life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other bones from Jefferson’s collection are on display at the Academy in a new exhibit in the museum’s library gallery (open 1-4 p.m., Monday through Friday).

A third Academy member, Charles Darwin, is represented in yet another current Academy loan, this one to the Rosenbach Museum. A rare first edition of Darwin’s landmark book On The Origin of Species (1859), owned by the American Entomological Society and usually housed in the Academy’s library, is featured in an exhibit celebrating the 150th anniversary of the publication of Lewis Carroll’s classic book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865).

By collaborating with our sister institutions through these loans and in other ways, the Academy is helping to expand cross-disciplinary ways of thinking about the natural world. We recommend seeing all three exhibitions, as well as those on view every day right here at the Academy.

 

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