For More Information:
Elaine Wilner (215) 525-4161
For Immediate Release
Of Elephants and Roses
New Exhibition Explores the Golden Age of French Science, Starting March 25, 2011
Philadelphia, PA, March 7, 2011…This is the story of two famous French gardens. One is the Jardin des Plantes at the Muséum of Natural History. The other was the private pleasure garden created by Empress Josephine at her Malmaison estate. At the turn of the nineteenth century, the professors at the Muséum competed with the Empress (Napoleon’s wife) for the new exotic flora and fauna that was flowing into France for the first time. Together, in their zeal for collecting, preserving, cultivating, labeling, classifying and displaying rare plants and animals, they made Paris the center for the development of natural history.
In this golden age of French science, musicians arranged a concert for two elephants living in the Muséum of Natural History’s menagerie; artists turned botanical studies of roses and other flowers into exquisite drawings on paper and porcelain; a giraffe walked 800 kilometers across France to pay a call on the King; scientists shared their newfound knowledge with their colleagues across the Atlantic at the American Philosophical Society; and Empress Josephine filled an enormous greenhouse at Malmaison with tropical plants and turned one of her artificial lakes into a habitat for Australian black swans.
In a new exhibition, Of Elephants and Roses: Encounters with French Natural History, 1790-1830, visitors will see scientific specimens, fine art works and rare books—many never before shown in this country—that document the zenith of French natural history. The exhibition is arranged in five sections with each one telling a unique story. Featuring more than 105 objects that bring to life many key elements of French science 200 years ago, the exhibition documents new scientific theories based on the arrival of never-before studied plants and animals from far-flung corners of the globe. It tells of attempts to acclimatize, assimilate and even use as symbols of empire the new material flowing into France, and it demonstrates how the country’s post- Revolutionary zeal for public participation catapulted French science out of the private domain of kings and collectors into the public world of art, culture and fashion.
The American Philosophical Society (APS) Connection
Eighteenth and early-nineteenth century science was truly international. Natural philosophers, as they originally called themselves, were linked through a vast “republic of letters” that established direct connections between English, French, and American naturalists and transcended political differences. Seeds and specimens (living and dead) traveled to Europe, but ideas flowed freely in both directions. Natural philosophers were united in their dedication to the advancement and diffusion of knowledge for the good of all mankind.
APS members John and William Bartram made their living sending native plants to Europeans, including some of the professor-scientists at the Muséum. At the same time, French explorers scoured North America for trees to replace France’s dwindling forests, which could no longer sustain industries such as shipbuilding and cask-making. Among them were father and son André and François-André Michaux; Thomas Jefferson, who served as President of the United States and President of the American Philosophical Society simultaneously and was a very active promoter of Franco-American exchanges. The fruits of this collaboration are on view including:
- American mastodon teeth sent by Jefferson to Georges Cuvier, a professor at the Muséum and the founder of paleontology.
- A letter from Charles Willson Peale to Cuvier telling of his excavation of what he called a “Mammoth” (actually a mastodon). Peale’s display of a complete mastodon skeleton in his Museum on the second floor of the APS’s Philosophical Hall was a sensation. Also on view is a sketch of the mastodon drawn by his son, Rembrandt Peale.
- A hand-colored engraving after William Bartram’s watercolor of the Franklinia, a tree native to Georgia that the Bartrams had named for the great Benjamin Franklin.
- André Michaux’s herbarium sheets of the Franklinia and of white oak trees, and packets of acorns sent by him, all from the collection of the Muséum of Natural History in Paris.
Empress Josephine was known as a world-class charmer, fashionista, and patron of the arts, but she was also a dedicated botanist with an interest in exotic animals as well. Between 1799 and 1814, the year of her death, nearly 200 flowering plants and trees flourished for the first time in Europe in the greenhouses and gardens at Malmaison. Her connoisseurship was expressed not only in the unusual horticultural and live zoological specimens she collected, but also in her patronage of artists such as the renowned botanical artist Pierre Joseph Redouté. His work, still admired today for both its scientific realism and its artistry, recorded exotic dahlias from Mexico, lilies from South Africa, and over 250 varieties of roses in Josephine’s garden. They appeared in beautiful printed books and on porcelain produced by the Sèvres factory, the pre-eminent porcelain manufacturer in Europe. Examples of Josephine’s influence in both science and art will be on view including:
- A taxidermy specimen of an Australian black swan that belonged to Empress Josephine. Black swans were unknown in Europe at the time and Josephine’s success in breeding them made them symbols of her wealth, power and taste.
- Les Roses, one volume of Redouté’s magnificent three volume masterpiece, a publication that is both aesthetic and scientific. Several other original Redouté botanical illustrations are included in the exhibition.
- Letter from E.I. DuPont, of Wilmington, Delaware to Josephine with a list of American seeds he was sending to her.
- Porcelain Ice cream cooler decorated with the flowering Franklinia, manufactured by Sèvres as part of a service featuring the plants at Malmaison. The growing interest in the natural sciences inspired ceramic factories across Europe to create dinner and dessert services with precisely rendered flowers and plants. Many examples from Sèvres and others are on display.
In the Muséum and the Jardin des Plantes
The King’s botanical garden and private collection of natural history specimens joined forces in the early 1790s to become the only scientific institution that emerged from the chaos of the French Revolution stronger than it had been under royal patronage. The new Muséum d’histoire naturelle, including the botanical garden and menagerie, quickly became the most important center for the development of the life sciences in the western world. The best endowed of any French scientific institution, it benefited enormously from the centralization of the French system after the Revolution. The breadth of its programs and the depth of its resources meant it attracted France’s scientific elite including J. B. Lamarck, Georges Cuvier, A. L. Jussieu, and Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. Its “revolutionary” structure, managed by an assembly of 12 “citizen” professors (each with absolute power over his own department) and its encyclopedic reach—anything animal, vegetable or mineral—resulted in a broad mission: the accumulation of specimens, theoretical and practical research, and public education – a new concept after the Revolution. Indeed, its role in instructing the public on the value of science was unique.
The museum’s menagerie was the fashionable place to see and be seen alongside the exotic species from the furthest reaches of the known world, put on public view for the first time. Two charming tales—one featuring the Indian elephants Hans and Parkie and another about a docile Nubian giraffe named Zarafa—demonstrate how some animals were not only objects of immense scientific interest, but also celebrities who created a public sensation. Examples of the many influences of the elephants and the giraffe on material culture will be on view including:
- Musical score, “Ah! Ça ira” by Bécourt. In what may have been the first modern animal behavioral experiment, musicians played this tune for the elephants while scientists observed their reactions.
- Illustration of an elephant from Comte de Buffon’s Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particulière. Buffon (1707-1788), head of the Royal Botanical Garden published a 36 volume natural history of humans, minerals, quadrupeds and birds that was comprehensive, authoritative and most beautifully illustrated. It became the point of departure for the scientists and amateur naturalists who followed him.
- Watercolor of a design for a giant elephant fountain that Napoleon proposed for the Place de la Bastille.
- A painting, “The Giraffe Passing Through Arnay-le-Duc” by J.R. Brascassat shows Zarafa and her entourage walking from Marseilles 800 kilometers across France from Marseilles to Paris.
- Ceramics, porcelains, bronze statues, a beadwork bag and a lady’s belt, all “à la giraffe” and part of her stardom, which created a commercial and cultural phenomenon.
Of Elephants and Roses: Encounters with French Natural History
March 25-December 31, 2011.
American Philosophical Society Museum
104 S. Fifth Street/Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 440-3440 www.apsmuseum.org
Hours: Thursday – Sunday 10 am – 4 pm
$1 Donation requested
Digital Images Available Upon Request
The American Philosophical Society (APS) Museum When Benjamin Franklin decided, in 1743 to establish America’s first “learned society,” he called it the American Philosophical Society (APS) because he and his friends practiced the objective study of nature and called themselves natural philosophers. Now we’d call them scientists. But the word “philosophical” stuck.
In the first half-century of the republic APS served as a national library, museum, and academy of science. Today the APS Museum presents ambitious exhibitions that explore the intersections of history, science and art and that present the Society’s treasure trove of important documents, scientific specimens, maps, 300,000 books, 8 million manuscripts, art works and objects that trace American history from the Founding Fathers to the computer age in new and thought-provoking ways.
These and other digital images are available on request. Contact Elaine Wilner, (215) 525-4162 or email@example.com