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Art Forms of Nature

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Art Forms of Nature


Kunstformen der Natur (German for Art Forms of Nature) is a book of lithographic and autotype prints by German biologist Ernst Haeckel. Originally published in sets of ten between 1899 and 1904 and collectively in two volumes in 1904,[1] it consists of 100 prints of various organisms, many of which were first described by Haeckel himself. Over the course of his career, over 1000 engravings were produced based on Haeckel's sketches and watercolors; many of the best of these were chosen for Kunstformen der Natur, translated from sketch to print by lithographer Adolf Giltsch.[2]

According to Haeckel scholar Olaf Breidbach (the editor of modern editions of Kunstformen), the work was "not just a book of illustrations but also the summation of his view of the world." The over-riding themes of the Kunstformen plates are symmetry and organization. The subjects were selected to embody organization, from the scale patterns of boxfishes to the spirals of ammonites to the perfect symmetries of jellies and microorganisms, while images composing each plate are arranged for maximum visual impact.[3]

Among the notable prints are numerous radiolarians, which Haeckel helped to popularize among amateur microscopists; at least one example is found in almost every set of 10. Cnidaria also feature prominently throughout the book, including sea anemones as well as Siphonophorae, Semaeostomeae, and other medusae. The first set included Desmonema annasethe (now Cyanea annasethe), a particularly stunning jellyfish that Haeckel observed and described shortly after the death of his wife Anna Sethe.

Kunstformen der Natur was influential in early 20th-century art, architecture, and design, bridging the gap between science and art. In particular, many artists associated with Art Nouveau were influenced by Haeckel's images, including René Binet, Karl Blossfeldt, Hans Christiansen, and Émile Gallé. One prominent example is the Amsterdam Commodities Exchange designed by Hendrik Petrus Berlage, which was in part inspired by Kunstformen illustrations.[4]

A second edition of Kunstformen, containing only 30 of the prints, was produced in 1924.

Gallery of prints

Haeckel's original classifications appear in italics.

References

  • Breidbach, Olaf. Visions of Nature: The Art and Science of Ernst Haeckel. Prestel Verlag: Munich, 2006.

External links

  • Marine Biological Laboratory Library - An exhibition of material on Haeckel, including background on many Kunsformen der Natur plates.
  • University Art Gallery, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth - An Ernst Haeckel exhibition from 2005 pairing prints from Kunstformen der Natur with modern sculptures.
  • Kurt Stüber's Biolib - An online version of Kunstformen der Natur with 300 dpi scans of the 100 plates, their scheme plates, the accompanying description, table of contents and supplement pages.
  • Ernst Haeckel's 'Kunstformen der Natur' as zoomable images - One hundred plates of "Kunstformen der Natur" (requires flash).
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