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Popular Book "Art Forms In Nature" Becomes Victorian Era Entertainment

Updated on April 13, 2018
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Ms. Venegas is exploring art and the enjoyment it can offer in retirement. Ersnt Haeckel sparked several years of reading and discovery.

Art Nouveau in Nature

Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) was a professor of zoology in Germany during the late 19th century and was well known as a popular speaker and scholar.

His many pursuits included a medical doctorate, studies in biology, Darwinism, and painting. He traveled the world studying nature and guiding university students.

His work is still evident in many fields and ideologies. He was the first to use in his writings scientific words common today: ecology and phylum to name two. He published a nature book, "Art Forms in Nature", rendered in the art nouveau style in the late 19th century.

Ocean Creature Books by Haeckel
Ocean Creature Books by Haeckel

The Young Man Ernst Haeckel

Ernst Haeckel graduated from high school in 1852 and begins medical studies. The following summer he traveled and studied marine biology as an assistant. His main task was peering at sea creatures through a telescope.

In 1858 he passes medical exams and opens his own practice, but his heart is not in the medical field. Haeckel decides to paint watercolors and studies art in Italy starting in 1859. He is now thinking of being a landscape painter or a scientist.
He decides on zoology and takes a teaching position at University of Jena, remaining there as a professor for 47 years.

He writes his friend "life is anything but tedious owing to nature's inexhaustible richness which...produces ever new, beautiful and fascinating forms that provide new material to speculate and ponder over, to draw and describe.... in addition to the scientific element, it involves artistic matters to a large degree."

c.1960 | Source

Professor for 47 Years at the University of Jena

His papers were richly illustrated with his own work. His work proved him a scientist and an artist. Haeckel arranged and enhanced his subjects with symmetry and the style of the day. His style was Art Nouveau that was becoming popular during the Romantic Movement. His "Art Forms in Nature" help cement the Art Nouveau look. Designers and architects of the day used his art in many of their own creations.

Nature as Art

The Romantic Movement ushered the acceptance of emotions as a valid experience. Today such an idea is everyday life. We experience awe and emotion through travel and new sights or fright in thrill rides.

As a young man, Haeckel approached a life's work in a romantic sense. To be truthful not every individual has that chance. He was from a family that held education in high esteem and they were willing to help their son. To study marine life as a zoologist and then put those studies to an art form was, I imagine, very exciting.

He abandoned the medical career to study microscopic creatures of the sea in 1859. In 1862 he published his Radiolarien. The monograph consists of illustrated pages of protozoa and their mineral skeletons. The plates with rich detail fit into the arts and crafts ideals of the time. He became a household name and the monolith became entertainment for Victorian parlors. Haeckel's designs embraced art nouveau.

Plate # 84 Art Forms in Nature

Diatoms | Source

Haeckel Publishes Art Forms in Nature

In 1899 Haeckel publishes the Art Forms in Nature. It is offered as a subscription of 10 plates for each mailing. 100 plates in all. In 1904 a complete volume is available.

The idea of subscription was in use for decades. Many novels were published as serials and magazines. John Audubon pursued this very method of art distribution with his Birds of America - 1837-1839. Haeckel's Plates 72, 74, 92 and 99 are very reminiscent of Audubon's work. Art nouveau was already a trend and Haeckel borrowed heavily from it for his Art Forms in Nature. Applying art nouveau to nature was a good fit because detail could be utilized to the fullest.

A certain level of fascination is present in each plate and detail draws observer in, much like the "find the hidden object" games in a child's magazine. Ernst Haeckel was awed by nature and made it available to the middle class for study and enjoyment.

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Current Publication of Art Forms in Nature

Art Forms in Nature: The Prints of Ernst Haeckel
Art Forms in Nature: The Prints of Ernst Haeckel

This book has all of the plates. There is a very good biography that is not too long to read and gives a good amount of information. Also, an essay on "...Viewing Haeckel's Pictures," and his art's relationship to art nouveau. Large format book. This is the book that introduced me to Ernst Haeckel and started further Internet discovery. It is not expensive.


All One Hundred Plates Available to Everyone

All the plates of Ernst Haeckel's Art Forms in Nature are available on Wikimedia Commons.

The site is at Haeckel on Wikimedia.

Is Ernst Haeckel New to You?

Did you know of Ernst Haeckel before this reading?

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By 1900 Haeckel is a Household Name in Europe

1900 Paris Exposition Entrance gates by Rene Binet based on Haeckel's radiolarian drawings.

By 1900 the art nouveau movement was in full prominence. The Paris Exhibition of 1900 was designed entirely in the art nouveau style. For an interesting photo collection see L' Exposition Universelle de 1900 Ã Paris.

Paris Exposition
Paris Exposition

Medusa Chandelier in Monaco Museum

Design for glass chandelier Oceanographic Museum, Monaco taken from Plate 88.

The Museum was built in 1910.

Chandelier designed from Haeckel's Art Forms in Nature.
Chandelier designed from Haeckel's Art Forms in Nature. | Source

Photos of Haeckel House in Jena

Linda6769 has allowed me to link her flickr photos of Haeckel's home in Jena. See the links below. When in flickr browse her photo's of Haeckel's home.

Plate #27 Comb Being Jellyfish

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons
Plate #92
Plate #92

© 2009 Sherry Venegas

Ernst Haeckel: Artist and Zoologist

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    • profile image

      RinchenChodron 4 years ago

      Very informative and educational. I had not been aware of Haeckel before. I love his work.

    • profile image

      sherioz 5 years ago

      This is a brilliant article. I love his work and it was so interesting learning about him as a person.

    • paperfacets profile image

      Sherry Venegas 5 years ago from La Verne, CA

      @KayRennie: Miklouho-Maclay was a favorite student of Haeckel and they traveled to the Canary Islands to study sea creatures. Where Haeckel came from a family that helped pay for his travels, Miklouho-Maclay, you mentioned, only had his mother to help him out. Haeckel was rather judgmental of debts Miklouho-Maclay left behind in Jena. There is a chapter about their trip in the book "The Tragic Sense of Life, Ernst Haeckel and the Struggle over Evolutionary Thought" by Robert J Richards.

    • KayRennie profile image

      Kay Rennie 5 years ago from Melbourne

      Great lens. I did some research on Ernst Haeckel when writing my novel about the Russian explorer Nikolai Miklouho-Maclay. They traveled together.

    • joannalynn lm profile image

      joannalynn lm 6 years ago

      Haeckel was quite the thinker, and you are clearly passionate about his work.

    • nelchee profile image

      nelchee 6 years ago

      I never heard of him before but I'm glad I did because his work is amazing, very inspiring for me as an artist.

    • profile image

      joanveronica 6 years ago

      What a wonderful collection this is! I must start researching about this at once, at once. The diagrams emind me of mandalas, of which I am very fond. Congratulations!

    • LeroySmith1 profile image

      LeroySmith1 6 years ago

      These images of nature a superb. Thanks for introducing Ernest Haeckel or reintroducing him to the world.

    • Michey LM profile image

      Michey LM 6 years ago

      As an outdoor lover, I always admire how creative, colorful, divers, and beautiful some nature-creations are. More 90% of artists are inspired from nature diversity in their creations... for a good reason.

      But Ernst Haeckel is new to me, so I learn a lot from your lens.


    • Charlino99 profile image

      Tonie Cook 6 years ago from USA

      Love this artist's work. I've known of this artist and his work, but not the details of his life or involvement with Darwinism. This is a very interesting and educational port of call for all who love the nature of art, and the art of nature. Thank you for sharing.

    • CruiseReady profile image

      CruiseReady 6 years ago from East Central Florida

      Wow! Thank you for this introduction to Ernst Haeckel! I find his art really appealing, and am quite intrigued by what you have presented here.

    • profile image

      jebozid 6 years ago

      Wow, fractals without computers. Amazing!

    • darciefrench lm profile image

      darciefrench lm 7 years ago

      It is only the differing paradigms of science and Christianity that separate evolution and creation into being 'different' paradigms. Both terms describe the same thing.

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 7 years ago

      I've seen many of these drawings before, but didn't know much about Ernst Haeckel. I wish I'd known about the Oceanographic Museum in Monaco. I would have enjoyed seeing the chandelier.

    • MyCrazyAdventures profile image

      Melissa 7 years ago from Albuquerque, NM

      I have the book "Art Forms in Nature" and love it...very inspiring. Thanks for the in depth info on Haeckel.

    • Sensitive Fern profile image

      Sensitive Fern 7 years ago

      Amazing, beautiful, work. I've probably seen it before but never really new anything about the artist. Some of it is almost futuristic looking.

    • Rita-K profile image

      Rita-K 7 years ago

      Thank you for a wonderful fascinating look into the life of a creative genius! Very well compiled, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit.

    • Aquavel profile image

      Aquavel 7 years ago

      I've been fascinated by the artwork of Ernst Haeckel for a while now, but I knew nothing about his life or even when he lived. And I never thought of his artwork as Art Nouveau, but now that you mention it, I can certainly see it in "Diatoms" and in the swirls of many of his illustrations. I just love his design for that glass chandelier at the Oceanographic Museum in Monaco too!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      You all might be interested in the photography of the German Karl Blossfeldt. Living at the same time, from 1865 to 1932, he, too, was a great inspiration for the art nouveau movement, capturing ferns and other forms of nature in his photos. Well worth seeing!

    • Laura Schofield profile image

      Laura Schofield 7 years ago from Chicago, IL USA

      How serendipitous I came across this today! I absolutely LOVE this. Being familiar with marine biology in art and Art Nouveau I am truly surprised I've never heard of Ernst Haeckel before. Favourited and lensrolled to many a lens of mine. You might be interested in checking out a lens I've put together on underwater-kids themed rooms - some of the stuff could even be applied to grown-ups rooms, such as the lighting or abstract sea designs. I'm going to feature this lens on that one too - some of these posters would make fantastic additions!

    • Heather426 profile image

      Heather Burns 8 years ago from Wexford, Ireland

      This is visually stunning and very interesting!( I love Art Nouveau. )He reminds me of Leonardo in his Renaissance quality.Beautiful!

    • profile image

      editionh 8 years ago

      Thank you for this great feature of a really great scientist and artist, who is almost forgotten in his home country

    • drifter0658 lm profile image

      drifter0658 lm 8 years ago

      What color! Normally, I would be put off by so much busy....but this work is extraordinary.

    • papawu profile image

      papawu 9 years ago

      This is the first I have ever heard of him, let alone seen any of his work. At first look, I feel like he should have been illustrating for Jules Verne or something like that, but on closer examination, his work is far too elaborate and intricate to have been showcased in a mere book. He seems to have had an almost Dali like stroke, but with emphasis on nature and things you may find in the deep sea. I am no judge of art, mind you. My parents were the ones with an artistic eye, but his brush strokes speaks to me vividly and that is something which an artistic novice such as myself can definitely appreciate. I appreciate your lens on him as well.


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