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This exhibition was on view March 25 – December 31, 2011

On December 1-3, 2011, the APS Museum held a symposium, Of Pictures & Specimens: Natural History in Post-Revolutionary and Restoration France, in conjunction with the Of Elephants & Roses exhibition. An book of scholarly essays from the symposium will be published in Spring 2013.
Read more about the symposium.
See a webcast of the symposium.
Read about the book.

Scroll to the bottom to download the Educator’s Guide.

IMAGINE yourself in Paris 200 years ago. You might have seen Empress Josephine’s famous black swans, a mastodon tooth sent by Thomas Jefferson to a naturalist in Paris, and original watercolors by Pierre Joseph Redouté, known as the “Raphael of Flowers.” These are among the objects that will be on view in this sumptuous exhibition about the science and art of French natural history from the 1789 Revolution to the July Monarchy of 1830—an era when Paris was the center of life sciences in the Western world, and Philadelphia, the center of science in North America.

Of Elephants and Roses: Encounters with French Natural History, 1790–1830 explores natural history in post-revolutionary France. Two grand gardens serve as the exhibition’s point of departure—the Paris Muséum of Natural History with its Jardin des Plantes, and Malmaison, the private garden of Empress Josephine, Napoleon’s wife.

Jardin des Plantes (Bibliothèque nationale de France)

Empress Josephine (Musée Masséna - Nice (photo ville de Nice))

These two sites acclimatized plants and animals from all around the world, produced new scientific knowledge, improved agricultural productivity and diversity, helped promote economic prosperity, and contributed to the glory of France, even during a tumultuous political period that lurched from bloody revolution to new republic, to empire, and ultimately back to monarchy.

OBJECTS TO SEE

Many of these objects have never before been exhibited in the U.S.

  • Fossilized mastodon teeth sent by Thomas Jefferson from the White House to French scientist Georges Cuvier, the founder of paleontology.
  • The score for a revolutionary song played for two elephants in the Paris menagerie in an attempt to make them breed.
  • One of Empress Josephine’s stuffed Australian black swans, which she was the first to breed in captivity.
  • Les Roses, one volume of Pierre Joseph Redouté’s three-volume masterpiece on roses, including many of Josephine’s 250 varieties at Malmaison.
  • The only surviving dinner plate from a Sèvres porcelain service for Louis XVIII, decorated with a South African sand lily.
  • Ceramic ware, a beadwork bag, an ink stand, a lady’s belt, and a man’s tie—all part of the craze for a celebrity giraffe who walked 800 kilometers across France to greet the king.
  • Acorns and oak leaves sent back to France by André Michaux, who was dispatched to North America to search for useful trees.

FIVE EXHIBITION SECTIONS

“Music for Elephants” documents two live elephants (named Hans and Parkie) that arrived in Paris in 1798 as spoils of war, and it documents the birth of paleontology based partly on the study of fossils sent to France by Philadelphia naturalists.

American Philosophical Society Library, detail

The Academy of Natural Sciences, Ewell Sale Stewart Library, detail

“Hunting for Trees” reveals how France’s decreasing forests led to a worldwide search for useful and beautiful trees including the North American oak and the flowering Franklinia. 

American Philosophical Society Library, detail

American Philosophical Society Library, detail

“Black Swans for an Empress” highlights Josephine’s love of exotic birds, second only to her love of flowering plants.  Images of exotic African and South American birds—as well as specimens of two fancy pigeons and one of Josephine’s black swans taxidermied 200 years ago—are included, along with birds in watercolors and scientific books, and on Sèvres porcelain.

The Academy of Natural Sciences, Ewell Sale Stewart Library, detail

Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens; Bequest of Marjorie Merriweather Post, 1973; Photo by E. Owen.

“A Flower Blooms” highlights a glorious Redouté image of an amaryllis and its bulb; Josephine paid the large sum of 100 gold louis for this desirable plant.  

Courtesy David Brind, detail

Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens; Bequest of Marjorie Merriweather Post, 1973; Photo by E. Owen.

“Everything Giraffe” tells the story of a baby African giraffe who was led on foot from Marseilles to Paris. She became a celebrity, and her image appeared on souvenirs, folk-art ceramics, and ordinary household objects. In addition to natural history in France, the exhibition will also focus on connections between scientists in Paris and those in Philadelphia. 

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Courtesy of the Trustees of the Boston Public Library/Rare Books, detail

American Philosophical Society Library, detail

Of Elephants and Roses was open from March 25 – December 31, 2011.

Click here to download the Educator’s Guide for Of Elephants & Roses

Support for this exhibition was provided by:
The Florence Gould Foundation
Richard Lounsbery Foundation
Crystal Trust
The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation
Alexander G. Bearn Memorial Fund