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The Spermaceti Whale

Date: 1789 - 1813
Sheet: 267 x 215 mm
Sight: 135 x 190 mm
Image: 230 x 180 mm
Overall: 335 x 407 mm, 0.25 kg
Mount: 340 x 405 mm, 5 mm
Medium: Ink on paper, mylar, card
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Print
Object No: 00019679

User Terms

    This coloured print depicts a side view of a humpback whale spouting water. The whale has a grey upper body and white under side, with a small flipper, fin and tail. It is plate number 184 from George Shaw's natural history series 'The Naturalist's Miscellany'.
    HistoryEuropean scientific knowledge of whales was a slowly evolving process. Whales were commonly sighted along the European coasts and occasionally seen stranded, however early published illustrations of the animal show a mythical monster-like creature - sometimes depicted with horns spouting water. Many artists did not draw from life, using descriptions given by explorers, scientists and publishers. Many of their works were copied from earlier drawings and offered only slightly different interpretations of the previous studies. The rise of the natural sciences in the 18th century saw a shift from mythical to scientific depictions of whales.

    The late 18th century European voyages of discovery pushed beyond the existing fringes of European settlement, and explored unknown lands beyond established sea routes. These voyages excited the scientific community with the documentation of exotic or previously unknown species. Naturalists, landscape artists, natural history artists and field assistants accompanied explorers on these voyages. The artists produced thousands of sketches and paintings of both plants and animals, from sea and land.

    As a result of these explorations, there was an enormous increase in the publication of scientific writings describing the animals and plants encountered on the voyages. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries numerous comprehensive and beautifully illustrated natural history compilations were published in Europe.

    One of those was written by co-founder of the Linnean Society and natural historian at the British Museum Dr George Shaw, called 'The Naturalist's Miscellany; or Coloured Figures of Natural Objects Drawn and Described Immediately from Nature'. It was a series of natural history prints engraved by Frederick Nodder and published by his company in London. They were issued in 287 monthly instalments between 1790 and 1813 - a remarkable 23 years. At the time of its publication, 'The Naturalist's Miscellany' was highly respected as a definitive natural history. The complete series includes over 1,000 hand-coloured engraved plates, completed by Frederick Nodder and his son Richard. The diverse collection consists of birds, mammals, reptiles, insects, fish, and crustaceans identified by 17th and 18th century naturalists from all over the world, including a number of whales.

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