Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (1807-1894) was a British artist and naturalist who significantly changed the way society thought about the world and its pre-human inhabitants. As one of the most versatile and prolific natural history artists of the Victorian age, Hawkins played a central role in the popularization of 19th century science. His knowledge of comparative anatomy and versatility at painting enabled him to create beautiful and scientifically accurate illustrations of fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals, insects, and fossils for such important figures as Richard Owen, Charles Darwin, and Thomas Henry Huxley early in his career. Hawkins went on to make the first life-sized reconstructions of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures anywhere in the world. Through a series of public displays in Great Britain and the U.S., Hawkins almost single-handedly ignited a popular interest in dinosaurs that continues to the present day. This is the first full-length biography of Waterhouse Hawkins. It is based on years of meticulous research in libraries, archives and museums in England and the U.S., including family papers, letters, sketch books and private records never available to scholars before. Includes a detailed time-line of Hawkins' professional career. Illus.
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Natural Artist: A new biography tells the little-known story of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins and his contributions to science. In November of 1868, the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia displayed for the first time in history a fully articulated dinosaur skeleton. Nearly 100,000 people visited the museum in 1869, doubling the usual attendance. "That would be a record in a some popular museums today, let alone at a time when the population was much smaller," says Robert Peck, the museum's curator of art and artifacts and senior fellow. "It must have been such a spectacle that those with even the slightest curiosity had to see it for themselves." The Hadrosaurus foulkii skeleton was realized by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, the 19th century British artist and naturalist. Hawkins worked with the leading scientists of his day Charles Darwin, Richard Owen, Thomas Henry Huxley and was instrumental in expanding popular interest in prehistoric life. "It's surprising he's so little-remembered today because of the contributions he made," says Mr. Peck, who has written, with Valerie Bramwell, Hawkins' great-great-great granddaughter, the first full-length biography on Hawkins, All in the Bones: A Biography of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, 2008). Life-size models of dinosaur skeletons are so common in natural-history museums today, it may be difficult to appreciate the effect they had on the popular imagination in the second half of the 19th century. "People who had never thought of what came before their own life spans or their ancestors, their eyes were opened," Mr. Peck says. * Hawkins began work on the sculptures in 1852, a pre-Darwinian time when "people could not grasp (the concept of) extinction," Mr. Peck says. The exhibit helped shape and shift perceptions of time and life. "It prepared people five years ahead of Darwin for what Darwin was going to tell them. It certainly sharpened their interest." Hawkins illustrated the last two parts of The Zoology of the Voyage of HMS Beagle, which was edited by Darwin. His commission to illustrate that book was preceded by his success in depicting mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and fossils in other publications. Hawkins gave "visual substance to what (scientists) were only describing verbally," Mr. Peck says. "He literally built his creatures from the skeleton out. It was that approach that he brought to America when he articulated dinosaurs at the Academy." "His work was original in the depiction, but not in the scientific thinking," Mr. Peck says. "He had the good sense, and his abilities were such, that he was working with the leading scientists of his era. No other artist of that era worked with so many leading scientific figures. I'd always thought he would make a great story. To my amazement, there was no biography about him." All in the Bones: A Biography of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins is published by the Academy of Natural Sciences, Phila., PA. The museum has remounted a cast of Hawkins' Hadrosaurus which is now on view. --Antiques Magazine
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