Botanical and biological prints have been having a decorating moment now for at least a couple of years. As a new book, The Art and Science of Ernst Haeckel, is released by Taschen, we look at the most influential, colourful and beautiful works of the scientist and artist from whom the whole style stems.
Haeckel was unusual in that he was both an accomplished biologist and naturalist, and a first-rate artist. He also coined many common biological terms that we use daily, from ‘ecology’ to ‘stem cell’. In 1866 he met Darwin, at a time when the public interest in science and biology had never been greater. While Darwin’s The Origin of the Species was, of course, revolutionary, it was also a scientific book, not easily accessible to the lay reader. However Haeckel’s The History of Creation, written in 1876, used his incredible illustrations to popularise the ideas of Darwin for a whole new, wider audience.
It is both the forensic level of detail – with many illustrations showing plants and organisms effectively in 3D – and the visual flair that combined to make Haeckel’s works so powerfully influential, both at the time and to this day. A philosopher as well as a scientist, the meeting of art and science that characterise his work was a reflection of his belief in the harmony of all elements of the universe, and although his style was criticised at the time for being too stylised, he was confident that the exquisite quality of the images was necessary to take the theory of evolution to the widest possible audience.
The history of the early 20th century however casts a long shadow over Haeckel’s beliefs, if not his work, with his theories being co-opted by the Nazis after his death in 1919. However the aesthetic he created has not waned. Look closely and you can see inspiration for many art and design moments that came after within his drawings. From the swirling sea-life patterns and delicate colours of the designer Neisha Crosland, to the nature-inspired prints typical of classic country-house furnishings… to the trippy, hallucinatory graphics of rave culture and ‘magic eye’ pictures, Haeckel’s visual legacy has been constantly revisited and repurposed in our homes for the last 100 years. The colours too are astounding, both in their vibrancy and the subtlety of the combinations. Many of the combinations shown above are on the list of hot platte ideas for 2018 – demonstrating that paying close attention to the art of Mother nature herself will mean you are always in style.