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Glass menagerie

The glass replicas of Rudolf and Leopold Blaschka

Vulnerable collections

Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka noticed that natural history collections did not get better in the 19th century as time goes by. Of course, in 2015, the techniques for keeping this kind of vulnerable collections have improved, but with their creation of glass replicas of plants, molluscs, embryos and so on, these father and son created a big market at the museums. Their work is still useful for feeding the wonder and transfer of knowledge.
Museums from all over the world ordered these expertly duo-ingenious replicas that seem real at first sight. The collections are being cherished, exhibited and still used for educational purposes. They are genuine works of art, which are a pleasure for the eye. When you have the catalog of H.A. Ward for invertebrates from 1878 leaflets, you are almost ready to order yourself. These two men had a good feel for the market.

Glass flowers

One of the most remarkable collections is the Glass Flowers of Harvard University in Boston. Recently I was there and took the time to look at this collection, which has been exhibited in the Harvard Museum for Natural History. This is a collection of 4000 glass models made by the Blaschka between 1886 and 1936. An important part of the huge 'glass menagerie', which have left the Blasckas. 3000 are on display.


Since 9 November, the museum has closed the Glass Flower Gallery for thorough refurbishment. One is going to adjust the way of exhibiting, restoring the windows and lighting the state of the art. I have to say honestly: it is about time The breathtaking glass flowers and plants are traditionally exhibited. The somewhat volatile visitor will presume an ordinary herbarium in classical museum vines. I hope that this special collection will  shine again after the reopening of this museum section on 21 May 2016.

Some of the pictures I made compiled the collage shown above.

Haeckel and Blossfeldt

Already struck by the collection I saw a connection with Ernst Haeckel's work. Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932), photographer and teacher who lived in the same period,  just like the Blaschka, was inspired by this special biologist who promoted Charles Darwin's work in Germany and made brilliant lithographs of the animal and plant world . They are collected in the well-known art of Kunstformen der Natur, which, besides giving an inspiring imagination of nature, bridges between science and art. As such, his work was an inspiration for many artists. The Blaschka's used it, but also did the "plant photographer" Blossfeldt.

It is clear that the glass collections, besides the knowledge they represent, feed the wonder of nature. Blossfeldt's pictures, however, do the same in their way.

Was the work of Rudolf and Leopold Blaschka distributed through the museums, Blossfeldt's pictures were used for drawing lessons for students industrial design at the school of the Berlin Arts and Crafts Museum (the later Berlin Art Academy).

Nature is the origin

Between 1890 and 1932, Blossfeldt made 6000 plant photos. The starting point in his philosophy was that everything that man designs, even in purely technical terms, must originate in the forms and structures in nature. It was Blossfeldt's belief that solutions for industrial designs were already hidden in nature. Following the spirit of the naturalist Art Nouveau, Blossfeldt found that nature should once again form the basis  for artistic creation. A conservative concept of art in those days, but again very current now that the distance between man and nature in daily life is high.

Urformen der Kunst

The modest Blossfeldt - he found himself an amateur photographer - was much counteracted and only recognized in 1928 with the edition his book Urformen der Kunst, His motto was: look at nature, it is the ultimate inspiration for designers. A motto used by many designers after his death.

In 2001, the Nature Museum Groningen made the exhibition 'The double face of nature' about his work. It was not a common exhibition of his pictures, as we often see. No, the museum was challenged to make a translation among other things, the everyday objects of everyday life, in which so many of the structures he exposed to his photographs were found. There was a pavilion with a few dozens of pictures, but they were big projected as wel to theme and in showcases compared with everyday objects.


The North Newspaper headed: "A seed box like a creamwhipper."

From the press release:

"Previous exhibitions about Karl Blossfeldt's work always focused on his photography.
"The double face of nature" presents Blossfeldt's plant fragments in magnifications of different sizes. Photobots with contact prints and herbaria give an impression of his way of working. Museum objects and examples in the field of arts and architecture that engage in similar forms from nature as soon as the photographs of Blossfeldt became known."

The small museum did something new in the long series of exhibitions with work from Blossfeldt until then. This was not immediately appreciated by the couple Wilde, who manages the estate of Blossfeldt. But they were also pleasantly surprised when they visited the museum daily before the opening of the exhibition.

Museums make the difference

Whether it's an exhibition of Blaschka's glass plants or Blossfeldt's photography: museums can make a difference and bring more to the visitor than the "O, how beautiful!"only. By the way and context in which the collection is presented museums can inspire, bring new ideas, make sense and live. The natural museum did at least make an effort. And that's what the Harvard Museum of Natural History will do with the new setup in Boston of those special flowers and plants.

(November 11, 2015)

Update: zie HERE