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The Smithsonian Institution Building (the Castle) ca.1858.


This exhibition offers a glimpse of the work of four scientific illustrators who worked in the Smithsonian Institution Building between 1852 and 1898: William Stimpson, John H. Richard, Robert Ridgway, and his brother John L. Ridgway.

Scientific illustration is one part of what makes a museum collection important. Its purpose is to enhance and support scientific research by showing minute details and distinguishing characteristics of the specimens being studied.
Joseph Henry, the first secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, established a program to publish scientific research in 1848, a mere two years after the founding of the Smithsonian. Henry recognized the great importance of publishing research with detailed illustrations, stating that it was key to "diffusing a kind of knowledge now only accessible to the few."

Stimpson, Richard, and the Ridgway brothers produced many original renderings of specimens from which high quality engravings and lithographs were made for various publications. Although their styles and backgrounds varied greatly, these four men shared a lifelong devotion to the study of the wonders of science and nature.



John H. Richard

John H. Richard (1807-1881) first worked in the Smithsonian Building between 1852 and 1855 illustrating the reports of several government exploring expeditions. (read more)

William Stimpson

William Stimpson (1832-1872) was a student of the eminent naturalist Jean Louis Agassiz... (read more)

Robert Ridgway

Robert Ridgway (1850-1929) was the curator of the Smithsonian's bird collections for forty-nine years. (read more)

John L. Ridgway

John L. Ridgway (1859-1947) was noted ornithologist Robert Ridgway’s younger brother. (read more)

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