The Sculpture of Nature

Terracotta relief sculpture in The Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum in London houses one of the world’s great collections on the living world but it is also one the nation’s truly amazing buildings. Designed by Alfred Waterhouse (1830 – 1905), the Museum is like a Romanesque Cathedral to Science with a touch of Victorian railway station thrown in. Waterhouse’s design is not only striking in terms of style but also for its innovative use of materials, with the entire building being clad in fired terracotta tiles in an interesting buff and blue colour scheme. The extravagant, nature-inspired decoration was also produced in terracotta with huge numbers of sculptures and sculptural reliefs both inside and out.

Romanesque Cathedral crossed with a railway station - A Temple of Science

Romanesque Cathedral crossed with a railway station – A Temple of Science

I studied art at a time when Modernism was still very much the dominant force in architecture. I seem to remember that a building like the Natural History Museum was not so much attacked in discussions of good architecture (except by implication), it more just totally ignored; but I loved the building the first time I saw it and love it even more today.

Waterhouse's Museum is as far from Modernism as you can get

Waterhouse’s Museum is as far from Modernism as you can get

These images are just a small selection of the reliefs and other decorations to be found in just the main hall of the building; the same decorative scheme is carried on throughout the building and can be the basis of an interesting museum trip all on their own.

Birds at the bottom of the grand staircase

Birds at the bottom of the grand staircase

Each piece of decoration was drawn by Waterhouse himself, then checked for scientific accuracy by Richard Owen, the museum’s director, then sent to a sculptor for modelling in clay before being cast and fired.

A canine - probably a domestic dog

A canine – probably a domestic dog

The great sculpture of Charles Darwin by Sir Joseph Boehm now commands the grand staircase.

The greatest figure in biology looking over the main hall

The greatest figure in biology looking over the main hall

A ram's head decorating the base of a main pillar

A ram’s head decorating the base of a main pillar

A feline

A feline with her young

Another bird

Another bird

Darwin

Darwin

For further information see Natural History Museum – History and Architecture
 and the RIBA Natural History Museum pages
or make a trip to see the museum yourself.

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One thought on “The Sculpture of Nature

  1. Pingback: Natural History Museum | Wai-Yuk Kennedy Textile Art

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