Haeckel’s Art Forms in Nature – Exploring Beauty in Biology

In a beautiful celebration of the natural world, Ernst Haeckel’s Art Forms in Nature is a masterful union of science and art.

As a proud addition to the Art Meets Science collection, Read & Co. Books has faithfully reproduced Haeckel’s innovative work. The volume is comprised of 100 illustrated plates, featuring stunning watercolour paintings and pencil sketches.

We’re diving inside this masterful work to give you a closer look.

Kunstformen der Natur (Art Forms in Nature)

First published in 1904, Haeckel’s detailed illustrations serve as a visual encyclopaedia for his pioneering research and anatomical discoveries. Featuring stunning depictions of various land and sea life, including jellyfish, sea anemones, and Radiolaria (miniscule, soft bodied organisms), the sketches were translated into a series of lithographic and halftone prints for publication. Serving both a scientific purpose while boasting unparalleled aesthetic beauty, the unique collection of plates holds a lasting influence in both the art and science worlds.

Over a century since their first publication, the German scientist’s intricate prints remain an unparalleled study of microscopic organisms and advanced marine life. Originally published under the German title Kunstformen der Natur (Art Forms in Nature), his innovative volume was highly influential and helped to popularise the study of natural history.

Black and white portait of a man called Ernst Haeckel done in the style of a vintage print
Ernst Haeckel, 1843-1919

The Art of Ernst Haeckel

Working in pencil and watercolour paint, Haeckel rendered the natural beauty of the organisms he discovered, preserving their complex forms, patterns, and structures. Highlighting the naturally occurring symmetry of exoskeletons and epidermises, his illustrations focus on beautiful elements such as scale formations and molluscs’ spiralling patterns. The subtle shading and mesmerising attention to detail drew the public eye to thousands of previously unstudied species.

Utilising lithographic and halftone printing techniques, master lithographer Adolf Glitsch translated Haeckel’s illustrations into 100 highly detailed prints. The illustrations were collated into two volumes and published as Art Forms in Nature in 1904. The prints feature Haeckel’s beloved radiolarians alongside many aquatic animals, such as corals, anemones, and jellyfish. The book’s striking images, coupled with its innovative design, inspired many artists of the time.

The Legacy of Art Forms in Nature

Art Forms in Nature remains a beloved and influential work, admired for its combination of scientific accuracy and artistic beauty. The volume made a remarkable contribution to the fields of biology, art, and design, broadening our comprehension of the relationships between different forms of life. Over a century after their first publication, Haeckel’s elaborate lithographic halftone prints continue to be an exceptional biological exploration, successfully marrying art and science.

This facsimile edition features the complete collection of Haeckel’s 100 original plates. The biological sketches and paintings are categorised according to their genus, and this is reflected in the index included at the back of the volume. The index lists the Latin names of all the organisms depicted in each plate, accompanied by the scientists and researchers who first discovered and identified the respective life forms. Some of the classifications are now redundant due to modern discoveries and revised taxonomy.

Read more about Ernst Haeckel’s pioneering contributions to the arts and sciences here.