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image John Ricard

John H. Richard, ca. 1878-1880.

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. These included the Wilkes Expedition, the Mexican Boundary Survey, and the U.S. Pacific Railroad Expedition and Survey. Between 1855 and 1875 Richard worked independently in Philadelphia, frequently taking on Smithsonian commissions, such as hand coloring the drawings of birds by ornithologist Robert Ridgway.

In 1875, Richard returned to Washington to prepare the Smithsonian’s natural history exhibits for the 1876 Centennial Exhibition to be held in Philadelphia. His painted plaster casts of fishes (see exhibits below) and several of his tinted drawings of fish were included in the exhibition. John Richard’s final project before his death in 1881 was the preparation of the Smithsonian’s fish casts for the 1880 Fishery Exhibition in Berlin for which the Smithsonian was awarded grand prize.

jpg of Grandpapa's Pet

“Grandpapa’s Pet,” Lithotint, by John H. Richard, from:
“Miss Leslie’s Magazine,” April, 1843.
Color photocopy.

John H. Richard’s skill as a lithographer and engraver was honed while he was employed by the Philadelphia printing firm of Peter S. Duval between 1841 and 1843. During that time, Richard experimented with a new process of lithography called “lithotinting.” The process was technically demanding, involving the printing of several graded washes that produced an effect similar to watercolor or aquatint. In collaboration with Duval, John Richard produced what was said to be one of the first true lithotints in America, entitled “Grandpapa’s Pet.”

photograph of John Richard

Photograph of John H. Richard in his studio in the Smithsonian Building,
ca. 1878-1880.

Late in his career, John H. Richard posed in this skylit artist’s studio with examples of his life’s work spread around him. Plaster casts of fish, modeled by the Smithsonian’s taxidermist, Joseph Palmer and hand-painted by Richard, were stacked around the perimeter of the room while his earlier paintings of reptiles, amphibians, and fish were also displayed.

Right: illustrations by Richard.

link to exhibit label plaster fish casts
link to lable mud fish

link to label red snapper
link to label summer flounder
link to green land turbo

These six plaster fish casts are all that remain of the 383 painted by John H. Richard in 1875 for display at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. Serving the same purpose as two-dimensional scientific illustrations, they preserve a record of the specimens’ anatomical details and coloration as well as exhibiting the fish full size and in three dimensions.

Courtesy of the Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Fishes, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

view of United States International Exhibition

View of the Smithsonian’s exhibit at the “United States International Exhibition,” Philadelphia, 1876 showing the fish casts molded by Joseph Palmer and painted by John H. Richard.

From: "Frank Leslie's Illustrated Historical Register of the Centennial Exposition, 1876."

The Smithsonian played a major role at the Centennial Exposition in assembling and mounting the exhibits in the Government Building. Spencer F. Baird, the Assistant Secretary of the Institution proposed a two-part display. One dealt with the Institution itself and its research role, while the other part was a comprehensive display of the natural history, animal, and mineral resources of the United States combined with displays of their economic utility.

One such exhibit was thecommercial fisheries display which in addition to showing commercially valuable fishes from American waters, also featured an extensive collection of boats and tackle as well as whaling apparatus. Many fish specimens were exhibitted: fresh fish were layed out in open ice boxes, others were preserved in alcohol. Also on exhibit were photographs, watercolor drawings, and the life-size plaster casts that had been painted by ]ohn H. Richard. They were arranged row upon row on two long free-standing panels.

Text adapted from: the sxhibition catalogue for "1876, A Centennial Exhibition," 1976, essay on the Smithsonian Institution exhibits, Claudine Klose.