Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) was a visionary German biologist, zoologist, naturalist, philosopher, physician, professor, author and natural history illustrator. One of the most influential biologists of the 19th century, Haeckel was a champion of Darwin’s theory of evolution. He discovered, documented and named thousands of new species and is known for coining many popular biological terms, such as phylum, phylogeny, stem cell and ecology, which he defined as the economy of nature.
His unique alchemy of science and art took form when he was 25, during a year in Italy for the scientific study of marine invertebrate zoology. In Messina, Sicily, he discovered radiolarians – beautiful, microscopic ocean protozoa that produce intricate mineral skeletons. Perceiving art in nature, Haeckel visually recorded and named over 100 species of radiolarians. In 1867 he published an illustrated monograph of the species, Die Radiolarien. This study launched his incomparable visual documentation of the intricate beauty of thousands of species.
Haeckel’s masterpiece Kunstformen der Natur (Artforms of Nature) was issued in 10 sets of 10 between 1899 and 1904. This enduring work includes over 100 stylized, exceptionally detailed lithographs of a wide variety of organisms.
Haeckel’s work blurred the line between scientific illustration and art, and while widely appreciated in its time, was also criticized for its broad artistic license. The Art Nouveau movement which glorifies natural forms, was said to have drawn inspiration from his signature style. His legacy is still admired by both artists and scientists today. Due to it’s age, much of Haeckel’s artwork is in the public domain and available through Wikipedia Commons.
The following gallery is from Haeckel’s exploration of sea creatures.