Tag Archives: natural history

Art for Everyone’s Sake

Art books collage 1

Westminster Reference Library, home of the specialist Art & Design Collection, now has art books for loan. Visit us at 35 St Martin’s Street and browse through our growing collection of inclusive, engaging and expertly written books on a wide range of art interests. The publications shown here are just some of our most recent additions:

Hieronymus Bosch; The Complete WorksHieronymus Bosch; The Complete Works combines new research with superb reproductions to celebrate this unique and visionary painter. His fantasies, grotesques and drolleries, set in natural surroundings, appear as fresh and eloquent today as they were 500 years ago.

Menswear illustration, by Richard KilroyFashion students! The explosion of international sales in menswear means that drawing is no longer dominated by women’s fashions. Menswear Illustration is the first survey of this new trend and features 40 innovative illustrators of contemporary styles in menswear.

Natural histories: extraordinary rare book selections from the American Museum of Natural History library, by Tom BaioneNatural Histories presents selected masterpieces of scientific art from 16th century zoologies to 20th century treatises. Essays by experts in their field explain how these scientifically significant, richly illustrated studies played integral roles throughout the history of natural sciences.

The Craft Companion by Ramona BarryBeautiful or bonkers The Craft Companion offers 170 projects to learn 33 crafting techniques, with inspiration from 150 contemporary artists. Try working with traditional materials (wood, leather, gold leaf) or turn to page 378 and make a recycled Terrarium for your plastic dinosaurs.

Art photography, by David BateArt Photography provides a fascinating introduction to the crucial role of painting in the invention of photography, and the importance of photography in the development of modern art. Visual examples from the 19th – 21st centuries illustrate how global this field of art has become.

Bernard Leach by Edmund De WaalBernard Leach is the first biography and critical monograph of this renowned 20th century potter whose ceramics, writings and teaching hold a central place in the international history of the decorative arts.


Making sculpture from scrap metal by Peter ParkinsonMetal workers have recycled broken tools and other scrap since the Bronze Age, but only in the 20th century did artists start using such items to make sculpture. Making Sculpture from Scrap Metal puts this artistic practice into context, describes the concerns and techniques involved, and illustrates these with the work of contemporary sculptors.

Looking at pictures: an introduction to art for young people through the National Gallery collection, by Joy RichardsonWhat are paintings for? This and other topics including colour, light, symbols and techniques are discussed in Looking at Pictures, the National Gallery’s excellent introduction to art for young people. Don’t let this put you off: it’s an illuminating mini-history of European painting.

Contemporary design Africa by Tapiwa MatsindeContemporary Design Africa is the first book on the innovative and sophisticated uses of traditional crafts taking place across the continent.   Over the past 100 years communities have used manufactured “rubbish” to make footwear, household goods, even toys. This practice, alongside the cultural use of natural materials, is an inspiration for any designer.

Alfred Wallis by Matthew GaleAlfred Wallis fisherman and marine stores dealer, is now recognised as one of the most original British artists of the 20th century. In the light of new research, this book traces the development of his painting from when he started 1925, until his death in 1942 at the age of 87.

If you want to borrow these or other art books, bring in your membership card; or bring proof of your home address and join the library for free. We are off the south side of Leicester Square, behind the main wing of the National Gallery. For more information, contact the library.

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Art Book of the Month, November 2016

Chinese Natural History Drawings selected from the Reeves Collection, 1974 - title page

Chinese Natural History Drawings selected from the Reeves Collection
Corporate Author: Trustees of the British Museum (Natural History)
Edited: PJP Whitehead and PI Edwards
London: BMNH, 1974. Limited Edition 41/400

John Reeves (1774 – 1856) was an English tea inspector for the British East India Company who spent several years in and around Canton.  His impressions of China were not very favourable (‘…and we have been disputing for months past with the villainous Government of this vile country…’ he wrote to his sister in 1814); but this mood did not last and he soon developed an obvious enthusiasm for collecting Chinese animals and plants, though specimens from all over Asia appear in his collection.

Chinese Natural History Drawings selected from the Reeves Collection, 1974 - Pineapple Chinese Natural History Drawings selected from the Reeves Collection, 1974 - Slow Loris

An early 19th century Sir David Attenborough, Reeves was a keen naturalist.  He took to documenting animals and plants and commissioned Chinese artists to paint them in the Western scientific tradition.

He sent living specimens of beautiful Chinese flowering plants back to England, and was responsible for the introduction of many attractive garden plants to the West, including chrysanthemums, azaleas and wisteria. His name, reevesii, was applied to nearly 30 species of animals, and a plant genus.   .

Reeves’s son, John Russell Reeves, shared his father’s enthusiasm for natural history and eventually became a well-known naturalist in China for scientists in England. On John Russell’s death in 1877, his widow presented the drawings he had inherited from his father to the British Museum’s natural history department.

Chinese Natural History Drawings selected from the Reeves Collection, 1974 - Scarlet Macaw

Twenty stunning selected drawings from the Reeves Chinese Collection, divided equally between animals and plants, made mostly on large sheets of cartridge paper, are reproduced in high quality in this beautiful volume.  John Reeves lived to see the birth of photography – which made possible the collotype reproduction used here – but it is doubtful that his artists knew about cameras.  Many of these pictures were not drawn from the subject and in some of the most delightful examples too much artistic licence has been taken.  It must have been tricky to capture a realistic likeness while the animals moved about.  In some cases the drawing is a composite of leaf, flower and fruit from three different plants grafted on to the same stem!  Similarly, the insect drawings contain an amazing amount of detail and observation, but the insects are often purely imaginary.  But it is perhaps for these reasons that these beautiful drawings both show what the actual animal looks like and provoke a response in humans.

Chinese Natural History Drawings selected from the Reeves Collection, 1974 - Pineapple and Butterflies and a Dragonfly around Morning Glory

The drawings are pleasing aesthetically and still important scientifically; almost two centuries later, they represent a real tribute to the energy of John Reeves of Canton and the skill of his artists.


Happy Birthday Sir David Attenborough

Happy 90th Birthday to broadcaster, naturalist and conservationist extraordinaire David Attenborough!

David Attenborough was born on 8 May 1926 (not long after the Queen) and must surely qualify as a ‘national treasure’, although it is a term he’d prefer us not to use. While those of us alive in 1979 probably have the groundbreaking TV series ‘Life on Earth’ imprinted on our brains, anyone looking to find out more about his life and work so far can find plenty to inform, amuse and intrigue them in Westminster Libraries.

Whether you’re interested in his days as a BBC senior manager (including being Controller of BBC Two and Director of Programming for BBC Television), as a natural history presenter and programme maker or his more recent conservation campaigns, you can find out more in the biographies available:

Life Stories by David AttenboroughDavid Attenborough in his own words - talking book Life on Air by David Attenborough - talking bookLife on Air, by David Attenborough

You can borrow DVDs of some of his many TV series and read the accompanying books, for example:

Life on Earth by David Attenborough The Private Life of Plants by David Attenborough The life of Mammals by David Attenborough Life in Cold Blood by David Attenborough

And if his work – along with that of the amazing BBC Natural History Unit – has awakened in you an interest in the natural world, which is of course his aim, you can explore your library for other great books (including ebooks – try the non-fiction Nature section):

The Great British Year by Stephen Moss The Hunt by Alastair Fothergill How did we get into this mess by George Monbiot RSPB Migration Hotspots by Tim Harris

You can also watch many of his TV documentaries, interviews (including his recent one with US President Obama) and lots of favourite clips on both YouTube and a special section of the BBC iPlayer – just search for ‘David Attenborough’, sit back and enjoy…


Animals and the City

Amateur naturalists in search of London’s wildlife will find signposts in London’s libraries, wherein are informative and colourful guides to where to go and what to see.

Watching wildlife in London by Marianne TaylorChris Packham’s wild side of townUrban Wildlife (Usborne Spotter’s Guide)Urban Wildlife Habitats by Barbara Taylor Wild town: wildlife on your doorstep, by Mike Dilger

London’s diverse animal habitats are engagingly surveyed in Watching wildlife in London by Marianne Taylor, Wild in London by David Goode, and Chris Packham’s wild side of town: getting to know the wildlife in our towns and cities. Fledgling naturalists can take flight with Urban Wildlife (Usborne Spotter’s Guide), Urban Wildlife Habitats by Barbara Taylor and Wild town: wildlife on your doorstep, by Mike Dilger.

The websites of the London Wildlife Trust and the London Natural History Society are packed with information on reserves, habitats, species, events and issues.

Beastly London, by Hannah VeltenThe opportunities for feeding and breeding attracts and sustains London’s animal populations. The story of those creatures who did not choose to make a home in the capital is evocatively told in Beastly London by Hannah Velten, an unsentimental, readable and well-researched account of “the heaving mass of animals that once lived on the street”.

Whilst unsentimental the book concludes with “a heartfelt apology to the animals with thanks for their forbearance …. for the exploitation they were subjected to, and the unnatural urban conditions they had to cope with”. Working with original sources and plentifully illustrated with contemporary drawings, prints and photographs, the author recounts the travails of the animals “used to feed Londoners, to transport them and their goods, to entertain them, to provide a livelihood for them [and] to provide sport and gambling opportunities”.

Itinerant dancing bear and dogs, 1828. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Itinerant dancing bear and dogs, 1828. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Also documented are the changes in attitude which led to legislation to restrain animal maltreatment, with Acts to prevent cruelty to horses and cattle in 1822, to dogs in 1839, and against animal baiting and cockfighting in 1835 and 1849. The rise of animal welfare societies is recorded too, with the Society for the Protection of Animals being established in 1824 and Our Dumb Friends’ League (today Blue Cross) in 1897, the latter opening an animal hospital in Westminster in 1906, believed to be the first of its kind in the world.

Patients Awaiting Admission, Our Dumb Friends League Aniimal Hospital. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Patients Awaiting Admission, Our Dumb Friends League Aniimal Hospital. Image property of Westminster City Archives.