Sketching Splendor: American Natural History, 1750-1850

April 12, 2024- December 29, 2024
104 S. 5th Street Philadelphia, PA 19106

Sketching Splendor: American Natural History, 1750-1850 explores how William Bartram, Titian Ramsay Peale, and John James Audubon made sense of nature’s complexities through their writings, drawings, and watercolors. It highlights their approaches to capturing the natural world during a time of rapid intellectual, social, and political change.

Bartram, Peale, and Audubon relied on natural knowledge established by European, Euro-American, and Native American experts while balancing changing ideas of how reason and emotion impacted science. As both artists and naturalists, they freely expressed their ideas using science, art, and literature. Through a potent mix of scientific ideas, shifting worldviews, and professional freedom, their works embodied both experimentation and certainty.

However, their interpretation of the natural world has also raised questions of national importance. Their world was not just one of intellectual excitement, but one of systematic injustice and a complex national history become visible as we peel back the layers.

Sketching Splendor draws on the APS’s extensive Library and Museum holdings. Highlights of the exhibition include William Bartram’s map of the Alachua Savanna, Benjamin Henry Latrobe’s Rattlesnake Skeleton, Titian Ramsay Peale’s watercolors from the Long Expedition, and one volume of John James Audubon’s original Birds of America.

Sketching Splendor: American Natural History, 1750-1850 will be from April 12 to December 29, 2024 at the American Philosophical Society Museum.