Curious Beasts

11 June 2016

curious beasts

Mermaid! I George Cruikshank (1822)

Friday 21 October 2016 – Sunday 5 February 2017

South Australian Museum

FOR the first time in the southern hemisphere, rhinos, tigers and porcupines, among a menagerie of beasts from the British Museum’s print collection, will make their way to the South Australian Museum this summer. 

After the show closes, the prints – dating from the 15th to 19th century - will go back to be stored in the Prints and Drawings Study Room at the British Museum perhaps never to return to these shores, so the opportunity to see them all together should not be missed. 

Curious Beasts: Animal prints from Durer to Goya from the revered British Museum, which holds one of the most extensive and historic collection of prints and drawings in the world, has been shown only four times, in the UK and the US.

The exhibition explores our enduring curiosity about the animal world through beautiful and bizarre imagery found in prints of the 15th to the early 19th centuries.

Featuring over 80 works on paper, the exhibition features prints by well-known artists such as Rembrandt, Albrecht Dürer, Francisco de Goya and George Stubbs, as well as many treasures by artists rarely seen. 

Printmaking emerged during the Renaissance in the 15th century as a major artistic and communicative form and coincided with a growing awareness of the rich diversity of flora and fauna as Europeans ventured to Asia and the Americas.

At the same time, even the most searching natural history study could contain deep symbolic or instructive meaning. Most people believed that God had created animals for human use, and accordingly viewed them in the context of human concerns. Creatures of all kinds were as likely to be found in religious scenes and satirical prints as they were in natural history illustrations.

Prints were small-scale, easily transported and comparatively affordable. They formed an international visual culture accessible to many levels of society, creating a fascinating record of Early Modern imagination and creativity.

 Alison Wright, the British Museum’s curator of the exhibition, says she’s delighted that the project will be coming to the South Australian Museum.

“The British Museum’s astonishing collection of prints has proved a wonderfully rich resource for exploring the ways in which the natural world has inspired and fascinated artists across the centuries. It’s a privilege now to be able to share the show with an institution with such an outstanding commitment to the study of the natural world.”

The presentation of this exhibition is a collaboration between the British Museum and the South Australian Museum.

The South Australian Museum will use its own natural history collections to interpret the European prints through the Australian landscape.

“Australian audiences will have to come to the exhibition to see what surprises come out of our glass cases, storage shelves and research laboratories,” says South Australian Museum director Brian Oldman.

“This exhibition will be a fascinating exploration of human curiosity and the creativity we use to express our understanding of the natural world – the same curiosity which inspired 15th century print masters and which continues to inspire scientists today. What did those Renaissance prints say about their world and what can museum collections and research tell us today.”


Media contact:

Thea Williams l M 0466 389 019 l E