Gorgeous 18th-Century Drawings by the First Artist and Naturalist to Depict the Wing-borne Beauty of the New World – Brain Pickings

by Jeremy

A century after, the self-taught German naturalist and artist Maria Merian laid the foundation of entomology with her art. A century before the Australian teenage sisters Harriet and Helena Scott instigated one of the greatest triumphs of conservation with their stunning butterfly drawings, John Abbot (1751–1841) became the first artist and naturalist to document the wing-borne beauty of the New World pictorially.

Little blue argus butterfly (Papilio argiolus) and great American fritillary (Papilio passiflora)

John was still a teenager when the Old World’s most venerated scientific institution, The Royal Society of his native London, took notice of his consummate entomological illustrations. While his trailblazing compatriot Sarah Stone was drawing the exotic animals of Australia and New Zealand, he was encouraged to leave for North America to help shed light on the insect corner of the continent’s largely unexplored living landscape.

Black and admirable blue butterfly (Papilio Ursula) and chestnut-colored butterfly (Papilio gilippus)

And so, in the summer of his twenty-third year, John Abbot made the arduous Atlantic crossing, heading for the capital settlement of the first British colony in North America: Jamestown, Virginia.

From the moment he set foot on American soil, throughout those difficult early years as a young immigrant, throughout the scientific disenchantment with a habitat far less biodiverse than he had expected, he persisted in collecting and rearing insects, studying and drawing them to send his detailed artwork back to London.

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