Sunday, October 18, 2009

Watercolours and Drawings

My most interesting primary source is a collection of William Bartram's drawings and watercolor paintings that he made during his travels. Its full title is William Bartram, 1739-1823 : watercolours & drawings, including those made on his travels in Carolina, Georgia, & Florida during the 1770s. I found the book thanks to WorldCat and received it about a week later through an interlibrary loan request. It was much better than I had anticipated it to be. It is not a small book with tiny drawings or anything like that. Instead, it is about three feet tall and two feet wide. The pictures are direct facsimiles from the London Natural History Museum collection of Bartram’s drawings. There are over twenty “plates” that were used for the production of the first edition of Travels. Almost all of these pictures can easily be found through Google, but seeing the image on paper just makes it seem more real.
A few of William Bartram’s drawings stand out as my favorites. The first is Bartram’s drawings of Alligators. It features two pictures of the lizards, both of which seem to show the alligator as smoother and more stream-lined than an actual alligator, almost as if it were a cross between an otter and a lizard. The most interesting aspect of these gators, however, is the smoke coming out of their noses. According to Bartram, the alligators were ferocious beasts that tried to eat him and let out huge roars. Most think he was writing poetry more than he was describing an actual animal on this occasion.
The other picture is a few pitcher plants around the scene with a snake catching a frog in his mouth mid-air. Again, whether Bartram actually saw this or not is in question. Regardless of actually seeing it, though, it is a wonderful and detailed illustration of an amazing natural event that anyone can imagine happening in their mind. His poetic license may outweigh his naturalist duty, but they are still spectacular drawings of the fantastic beauty inherent in nature.

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