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"Art Forms In Nature" Becomes Victorian Era Entertainment

Ms. Venegas is exploring art and the enjoyment it can offer in retirement. Ersnt Haeckel sparked several years of reading and discovery.

Art Nouveau in Nature

Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) was a professor of zoology in Germany during the late 19th century and was well known as a popular speaker and scholar.

His many pursuits included a medical doctorate, studies in biology, Darwinism, and painting. He traveled the world studying nature and guiding university students during ocean exhibitions..

His work is still evident in many fields and ideologies. He was the first to use in his writings scientific words common today: ecology and phylum to name two. He published a nature book, Art Forms in Nature, drawn in the art nouveau style in the late 19th century.

Ocean Creatures

Ocean Creatures

The Young Man

Ernst Haeckel graduated from high school in 1852 and begins medical studies. The following summer he traveled and studied marine biology as an assistant. His main task was peering at sea creatures through a telescope.

In 1858 he passes medical exams and opens his own practice, but his heart is not in the medical field. Haeckel decides to paint watercolors and studies drawing in Italy starting in 1859. He is now thinking of being a landscape painter or a scientist. He decides on zoology and takes a teaching position at University of Jena, remaining there as a professor for 47 years.

He writes his friend "life is anything but tedious owing to nature's inexhaustible richness which...produces ever new, beautiful and fascinating forms that provide new material to speculate and ponder over, to draw and describe.... in addition to the scientific element, it involves artistic matters to a large degree."


Professor for 47 Years at the University of Jena

Haeckel's academic papers are richly illustrated with his own drawings. His illustrated monographs proved him a scientist and an artist. He enhanced his subjects with symmetry in the trend of the day, Art Nouveau: a style that was becoming popular during the Romantic Movement. Art Forms in Nature cements the Art Nouveau look of the era. Designers and architects of the day used his biological drawings in many of their own creations.


Nature as Art

The Romantic Movement ushered the acceptance of emotions as a valid experience. Nature blossomed into the forefront of enjoyment and entertainment as curiosities. Today such an idea is everyday life. We experience awe and emotion through travel, new sights and personal discoveries.

As a young man, Haeckel approached a life's work in a romantic sense. He abandoned a medical doctorate to be a zoologist relying heavily on illustration and teaching. Not every individual has that chance. He was from a family that held education in high esteem and they were willing to help their son. To study marine life as a zoologist and then put those studies to an illustrated form was, I imagine, very exciting.

He started studying microscopic creatures of the sea in 1859. In 1862 he published his Radiolarien, pursuing exactly what he wanted to do as a career. The monograph consists of illustrated pages of protozoa and their mineral skeletons. The plates with rich detail fit into the arts and crafts ideals of the time. He became a household name and the monolith became entertainment for European middle class parlors. Haeckel's designs embraced art nouveau, the curvy, flowing style which exploded during the Victorian era by such artists as, Beardsley and Mucha.



100 Richly Illustrated Plates

In 1899 Haeckel publishes the Art Forms in Nature. It is offered as a subscription of 10 plates for each mailing. 100 plates in all. In 1904 a complete volume is available.

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The idea of subscription was in use for decades. Many novels were published as serial subscriptions in magazines. John Audubon pursued this very method of sales distribution with his Birds of America - 1837-1839. Haeckel's Plates 72, 74, 92 and 99 are very reminiscent of Audubon's work. Art nouveau was already a trend and Haeckel borrowed heavily from it for his Art Forms in Nature. Applying the style to nature drawings was a good fit because detail could be utilized to the fullest.

A certain level of fascination is present in each plate and detail draws the observer in, much like the "find the hidden object" games in a child's magazine. Ernst Haeckel was awed by nature and made it available to the middle class for study and enjoyment.

Plate #27

Plate #27

All One Hundred Plates Available to Everyone

All the plates Art Forms in Nature are available on Wikimedia Commons.

The site is at Haeckel on Wikimedia.

Current Publication of The Victorian Subscription



Is Ernst Haeckel New to You?

By 1900 The Professor Is a Household Name in Europe

1900 Paris Exposition Entrance gates by Rene Binet based on Haeckel's radiolarian drawings.

By 1900 the art nouveau movement was in full prominence. The Paris Exhibition of 1900 was designed entirely in the nouveau style. For an interesting photo collection see L' Exposition Universelle de 1900 Ã Paris.

Paris Exposition

Paris Exposition

Medusa Chandelier in Monaco Museum

Design for glass chandelier Oceanographic Museum, Monaco taken from Plate 88.

The Museum was built in 1910.

Chandelier designed from Plate 88

Chandelier designed from Plate 88

Monaco Oceanographic Museum

Monaco Oceanographic Museum

© 2018 Sherry Venegas


Sherry Venegas (author) from La Verne, CA on July 30, 2018:

Linda, a musuem in Jena has maintained his home in mostly its original form. There are many woodworkings using sea creature motifs.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on July 23, 2018:

I think that Ernst Haeckel's work is interesting. Thank you for sharing some examples of his creations as well as the information. I love the chandelier. I didn't realize that it existed.

Sherry Venegas (author) from La Verne, CA on July 23, 2018:

A portion of the world population doesn't favor his work, because he very much admired and promoted Darwin's theories when his famous book was published. He was Darwin's German champion and lectured extensively about the origin of the species.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on July 23, 2018:

Interesting. I was really impressed with Gaudi's works in Barcelona as he incorporated so much of Nature into it. Thank you for introducing me to Haeckel. I find his works engaging and will continue to explore art forms in nature.

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