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Butterflies_ art and Linnaean systematics in 18th century England


									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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