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Humans have relied on animals for time immemorial as sources of companionship, clothing, and food. This affinity appears reflected in visual culture throughout the ages, from crude renderings on the walls of caves to modern day works by artists such as Deborah Butterfield and Hunt Slonem. Prior to the advent of photography, painting and illustration were among the few ways artists could document the natural world and artistically express the relationship between humans and animals.
The tradition of creating detailed animal drawings for taxonomic purposes originated in Europe, then quickly spread with the expansion of colonialism. As European culture spread to the Americas, South Asia, and beyond, so did the enterprise of naturalist drawing. While these highly intricate drawings were intended largely for scientific purposes at the time of their creation, they were also valued aesthetically and are now sought-after works of art.
John James Audubon is arguably the most famous zoological draftsman in history. One of Audubon’s “Birds of America” folios containing prints of his drawings sold at a Christie’s auction in 2012 for $7.9 million
In the early 19th century, Prussian explorer and naturalist Alexander Von Humboldt traveled to South America. While there, he produced a prodigious amount of drawings observing the natural life that he discovered throughout his travels
Contemporary illustrator Walton Ford continues the naturalist tradition, drawing fantastical portraits of animals in a style very much inspired by Audubon