Whale Watercolors


Leviathan: Watercolors of Whales from William Jardineís The Naturalistís Library

For centuries the immense size of whales, coupled with the mysteries of the oceans, has captured the imagination of mankind.   From the Bible to John Miltonís Paradise Lost, from travel accounts to poetry to fiction, writers have used the whale to question and explore the nature of human beings and the nature of the geographical world.  By the 19th century scientists were systematically studying whales, and in the process they created even more of an interest in an animal that had profound importance both economic and symbolic.

Sir William Jardine, a naturalist in Scotland, published vivid and dramatic watercolors of whales  - eleven of which are exhibited here - in his 4-volume series entitled The Naturalistís Library (Edinburgh, 2nd ed.,1845-1864).  A trained naturalist, Jardine was a highly respected scientist who specialized in ornithology at the University of Edinburgh.  He established a very good ornithology museum, served as a Royal Commissioner on fisheries, and edited many natural history projects.  Beginning in 1843 with the first volume, Jardine printed the watercolors as part of his extensive documentation of the natural world.  He completed the series in 1845, contemporary with the age in which Herman Melville wrote his masterpiece, Moby Dick. 

Call Number: Rare Books Collection, QL45.J3