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Butterflies, art and Linnaean systematics in 18th century England: the achievements of Henry Seymer, Thomas Robins Junior and William Jones R.I. Vane-Wright, FLS, FRES Scientific Associate, the Natural History Museum London, and Fellow, National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts The conspicuous colours and two-dimensional patterns of butterfly wings offer perfect subjects for the representation of nature on paper. With the rise of Linnaean systematics in the mid 18th century, those skilled in such art, and especially watercolorists, could be recruited to enhance works otherwise describing such brilliant creatures only in drab Latin prose. Equally, some of those interested first and foremost in entomology learned how to excel in drawing and colouring, for exactly the same purpose. In either case, the end was often the same: the necessarily intimate observation involved led to a deeper appreciation of the underlying similarities and differences of the subjects. Perhaps the most famous butterfly artist employed in the early period of Linnaean systematics in England was Moses Harris (1730–ca1788), most celebrated for The Aurelian, but also a key figure in realizing Dru Drury’s very influential Illustrations of Natural History. The presentation will, however, focus on and compare three lesser known but equally outstanding butterfly painters: Henry Seymer of Hanford (1714– 1785), Thomas Robins Junior of Bath (1748–1806), and William Jones of Chelsea (1745–1818). Between them they produced just one publication — Jones’ 7 page paper in the Society’s Transactions for 1794. Had they fulfilled their potential and published more, our knowledge of the world’s butterfly fauna might have progressed faster and better than it did. Close study of their work can still reveal new insights into the world of eighteenth century English entomology — and some of the creatures they depicted. The talk will be illustrated by Microsoft lantern slides of original artwork.
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