The Golden Age of Scientific Illustration

During the 19th century, John James Audubon and John Gould brought to world attention the splendour of the planet's avian diversity. In an era infatuated with natural history, these gloriously modelled and coloured images satisfied the demands of passionate naturalists.

Both artists used print-making media for their ability to create multiple original impressions. Gould's etchings demonstrated precision and delicacy of line, while aquatint etching — the technique used by Audubon — gave shading and atmospheric effects, like watercolour or drawing. Applying colour remained the most time-consuming part of these processes, with images painstakingly hand-coloured either on the plate or on the print.

For both Audubon and Gould, the birds of the new world provided the most spectacular subjects for their art. They have become inextricably linked with these two great practitioners of scientific artwork.


Questions for the classroom

Humanities Inquiry
Why did interest in the natural world increase during the 19th century?

Look at the time line of this period and see if you can find three significant changes in science and technology that may have contributed.

Science Inquiry
How did Audobon and Gould communicate their observations of nature?

Did they make realistic observations?

Art Inquiry
Research Audubon or Gould and explain in your own words the significance of their work and ideas.