Flora & Fauna

Early Naturalists in Florida

Key West Museum of Art & History | Bumpus Gallery

March 15, 2024 - October 20, 2024

Significant westward expansion originated in 1803 when Thomas Jefferson signed the Louisiana Purchase.  Expansion into Florida followed less than two decades later when the territory transferred from Spain to the United States.  Artists accompanied explorers as they traveled to these uncharted and unblemished areas teeming with natural beauty.  These artists painted the curious new landscapes, replete with distinct flora and fauna largely unknown to American citizens.

With growing interest in organized scientific exploration, Philadelphia-based naturalists such as William Bartram, Alexander Wilson, Thomas Say, Thomas Nuttall, Titian Ramsay Peale, and John James Audubon explored the Florida peninsula before they made their reputations in the Far West.  The observations of these renown naturalist made Florida a destination for those interested in nature-centric recreation—fishing, hunting, and bird-watching during the first half of the nineteenth century.  For these men, observation of plants and animals was an art as well as a science, and despite the primitive conditions of frontier travel, they developed a sense of the beautiful in nature, as remarkably non-European as it was enthusiastic.

This exhibition will feature short biographies of the principal naturalists working in the Florida Territory in the early nineteenth century alongside representations of their Florida-inspired works.

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