MILWAUKEE.- A new world of American splendor is seen through the eyes of intrepid artist-explorers as never before in Catesby, Audubon, and the Discovery of a New World, on view December 18, 2008March 22, 2009 in the Koss gallery at the Milwaukee Art Museum . Featuring a selection of prints from the impressive holdings of the Museum's Collection, the exhibition profiles both the outstanding artistic achievements of daring naturalists and the innovations of printmaking that helped them create their masterpieces. The occasion brings Pulitzer-prize winning biographer Richard Rhodes to the Museum for a lecture on January 22.
A naturalist born in England in 1683, Mark Catesby explored the British colonies in North America on a four-year expedition supported by the British Royal Society that began in 1722. Catesby toiled for a decade to complete in 1731 his two-volume masterwork, The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands. The volumespublished more than sixty years before the invention of lithographyfeatured 220 hand-colored etchings of the birds, fish, reptiles, and plants he encountered in the new world. Carolus Linnaeus included it as a source in the 10th edition of his Systema Naturae (1758).
Catesby's exploration of America's seemingly limitless natural variety set in motion a rich history of exploration and printmaking in America. A century after its creation, John James Audubon published his own treatise, The Birds of America, from Original Drawings Made during a Residence of 25 Years in the United States, which stands as a monument of American art. Audubon's masterpiece was the result of a spirited competition with Scottish-American naturalist Alexander Wilsonwhose prints of American birds are also featured, along with lithographs of American mammals by Audubon and his son, John Woodhouse Audubon.
Approximately fifty prints of the plants, birds, mammals, and reptiles of North America fill the gallery, drawn from the Museum's Collection. A selection of key loans from three private collections, the Chipstone Foundation, and a trio of major librariesthe Milwaukee Public Library, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Memorial Library and Chicago 's Newberry Librarycomplete the presentation. Five original books show the prints exactly as they were seen for the first time, and present to visitors hand-written author marginalia.