Seeing and Knowing: The Natural History Drawings of Robert Bruce Horsfall

Apr 06, 2019 - Sep 29, 2019
Eisenberg Gallery

Around the turn of the twentieth century, scientific disciplines increasingly shifted to molecular and behavioral studies, and the divide between scientists and “gentlemen naturalists” became more firmly entrenched. This exhibition explores how academically-trained artist and New Jersey resident Robert Bruce Horsfall (1869-1948) negotiated these changing dynamics while working for scientists and natural history museums across the Northeast. Like many artist naturalists of the time, Horsfall traveled on expeditions documenting flora, fauna, landscapes, and topography as field notes for works that would be finished and prepared for publication in the studio. As an artist in the scientific community Horsfall enjoyed commercial success painting backgrounds for nature dioramas and supplying animal illustrations for a variety of popular and professional scientific publications. Drawn from the Zimmerli’s collection of works on paper, this exhibition shows how scientific illustrators at this time understood and translated the natural world though a variety of artistic conventions. The drawings, sketches, and paintings demonstrate traditional approaches to natural history often rooted in art historical precedents, but they also show how images could function differently for private and public use as illustration’s scientific value was being challenged.

Organized by Kimiko Matsumura, Graduate Curatorial Assistant (2017-2018) and PhD Candidate, Department of Art History, Rutgers University, with the assistance of Donna Gustafson, Curator of American Art and Mellon Director of Academic Programs