When you visit the University of Oxford’s Natural History Museum its a job to know where to look – at the marvellous exhibits? Or at the magnificent architecture? In this painting you’ll spot a dodo, some dinosaur footprints, the swifts that nest in the tower, a dinosaur skeleton and so much more! My favourite bit is the frog in the jar. What’s your’s? The title comes from Charles Darwin’s book ‘The Origin of Species’ in which he wrote of his theory of evolution by natural selection: “There is grandeur in this view of life…” The print is last one of a limited edition (of 4) hand-made drypoint tinted with watercolour – 450mm x 700mm.
I simply love Oxford University’s Natural History Museum. The building itself is a masterpiece of 19th century engineering, with masonry so carefully considered and carved the stones seem to live. And then there’s the great glass roof, held aloft by soaring metal arched beams, decorated with leaves and flowers. If it was simply an empty space, people would still come to marvel at it.
Then consider that this architectural stunner contains an extraordinary treasure trove of natural wonders: dodo relics; the oldest surviving pinned insect -a tsetse fly collected by David Livingstone; delicate fossils of exquisite variety; and even some exhibits collected by Darwin himself during his voyage on the Beagle. Despite the smell of the place (slightly musty with the merest whiff of formaldehyde) I like to go there because it is life-affirming and it makes me feel completely insignificant.
It occurred to me that I really ought to have a go at making a picture of this wonderful place. But how? The only way I could think was to start from the sense of awe and drama I feel for life on Planet Three, and couple it with the sense of ‘not knowing where to look next’ whenever I’m there. So here it is: ‘A grand view of life at Oxford’s Natural History Museum’.
The title comes (almost) from Darwin, who said in the Origin of Species (published 150 years ago this week) of his theory of evolution that there is “a grandeur in this view of life”. I agree. And I especially get that feeling when I go to the museum and witness biodiversity laid out before me.