The National Taiwan Museum and Forestry Bureau have joined forces to present "Drawing Nature — Taiwan as Portrayed in Natural History Illustrations," a special exhibition focused on scientific illustrations. It begins with a definition and history of scientific illustration, then moves on through the natural history of Taiwan as recorded by naturalists and other observers of nature since the 19th century to the diverse creations in the field as it stands today.
The exhibition includes hundreds of wonderful illustrations of flora, fauna, and geology from home and abroad, along with videos from real-world field investigations. Guiding visitors through the rare beauty of Taiwan's natural facades, it will run from Jan. 22, 2020 through to May 30, 2021 at the National Taiwan Museum's Nanmen Park in Taipei.
Scientific illustration is at its roots a documentary task, but the detail-oriented nature of the work gives it educational value, and through the characteristics the artists try to portray, exhibition-goers can get a glimpse of their own desires and the structures of the world beyond the illustrations themselves. These aspects are what make scientific illustration art as well as science.
This exhibition shall present a history of scientific illustrations by focusing on the flora, fauna, and ecology of Taiwan as expressed through drawing, as well as using this as a hint toward the future of the field. It is also part of realizing the ideals of a new generation of museums — ones that not only serve to educate and exhibit, but also act as the conscience of society by curating exhibitions that dig into questions and problems and provoke discussion.
A highlight of this exhibition is an illustration of Tetrapanax papyrifer, the rice paper plant, composed by a British naturalist in Taiwan in 1852. This makes it not only Taiwan’s earliest scientific illustration, but also the first time an item of Taiwanese flora was published with a taxonomic name.
Another item of note is the only reprinted edition of "The Birds of America" in Taiwan; this book has been called an American national treasure, with a copy selling for a record-breaking £7,321,250 at a Sotheby's auction in London. Also selected for display are illustrations from the latest and most comprehensive book on Taiwan's birds, "A Field Guide to the Birds of Taiwan (臺灣野鳥手繪圖鑑)," and Taiwan's earliest collection of flora illustrations, "Icones Plantarum Formosanarum (臺灣植物圖譜)."
This special exhibition shall present Taiwan's beauty through illustration after illustration, including a map of Taiwan drawn in the 17th century by Dutch cartographer Johannes Vingboons recording the face of Taiwan as seen four centuries ago, with a particularly detailed depiction of the Tainan area. On a similar note are topographic maps of Keelung, Tamsui, and Penghu's Magong Harbor published in the 19th century in French news magazine "Le Monde illustré," giving the people of France their first glimpse of Taiwan.
In an age before the widespread use of photography, illustration was one of the most important means for people to learn about the wider world. As part of this exhibition, scientific illustrators have also been invited to give live demonstrations and take questions from visitors, and visitors themselves will also have the chance to put pen to paper and experience for themselves the pleasure and pain of scientific illustration using specimens presented on site.
‘Drawing Nature — Taiwan as Portrayed in Natural History Illustrations’
• Date: Jan. 22, 2020 – May 30, 2021
• Venue: Nanmen Park, National Taiwan Museum
• Address: No. 1 Nanchang Rd. Section 1, Zhongzheng Dist., Taipei, Taiwan (ROC)
• Site: https://www.ntm.gov.tw/en/