Ref NoLDGSL/613
TitleArtwork for Louis Agassiz's 'Recherches sur les Poissons Fossiles'
Date[1831-1843]
Date NoteGiven dates are based around watermarks, activity of artists, known dates which Agassiz consulted collections or dates of publication.
LevelSeries
Extent450 sheets
FormatPhotograph/drawing/painting/print
DescriptionDrawings and paintings of fossil fish by Joseph Dinkel and others, the original artwork for Jean Louis Rudolphe Agassiz's 'Recherches sur les Poissons Fossiles' (1833-1843/1844). Arranged in five volumes, volume 2 is in two parts.
Administrative HistoryJean Louis Rudolphe Agassiz, was born on the 28 May 1807 in Môtier, Switzerland, where his father was the local pastor. Between 1824-1829, Agassiz studied medicine at the Universities of Zurich, Heidelberg and Munich, during which he developed an interest in zoology, particularly the study of European freshwater fishes. In 1828 he published his first paper on the subject - a description of a new species of the genus Cyprinus (carp) - but the following year saw the issue of 'Selecta genera et species piscium quos in itinere per Brasiliam annis MDCCCXVII-MDCCCXX …' which contained descriptions of the species of fish found by the German naturalists Johann Baptist von Spix and Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius during their expedition to Brazil between 1817-1820. On Spix's death in 1826, Martius had commissioned Agassiz to complete the work. However, it would be during Agassiz's research for his next planned work, a natural history of the freshwater fishes of Europe, when he began to compare the fossil forms found in Oeningen and Glarus, in Switzerland, and at Solnhofen, in Bavaria, that he would develop his lifetime's fascination with fossil ichthyology.

Louis Agassiz arrived in Britain during the autumn of 1834, having already received a welcome prize fund from the Geological Society to support him in his fossil fish researches, which he had been working on for two years (notably with the blessing of Georges Cuvier who had given Agassiz his research on the subject). George Bellas Greenough, the President of the Society, eager to help with such an important palaeontological and geological work, issued a call to the Society's Fellows to send examples of fossil fish to aid Agassiz and a room was set aside for the specimens to be copied. Agassiz's principal artist, the Austrian born Joseph Dinkel (c.1806-1891), spent his first few years in London splitting his time between the Society and the British Museum. Slavish copying was not the aim of the work. Instead the intention was to show the structure of fossil fish and, as Agassiz's classification system was primarily based on dermal features and appendages, the artist would emphasise the scales and fins in his drawings.

For the next decade, Agassiz continued to visit the palaeontological collections of Britain and Europe seeking out new specimens for his work. Those which were not sent to the holding centre of the Society or his publishing base at Neuchatel, Switzerland, were drawn in situ by one of Agassiz's commissioned artists. The cost of the research involved in such a major work, combined with the expensive colour printing techniques saw Agassiz accepting help from various friends and scientific figures of the time. Wealthy collectors such as Lord William Willoughby Cole (1807-1886), later the Earl of Enniskillen, and Sir Philip de Malpas Egerton (1806-1881) defrayed some of Agassiz's costs by having specimens from their fossil cabinets drawn by Dinkel at their own expense - the drawings becoming their property once Agassiz had had them copied onto lithographic stones. Despite this, Agassiz still had to sell his own natural history collection to the local authorities at Neuchatel to meet the high production costs, and with nothing left apart from the original artwork, which was of no further use once converted to lithographic images, these were next marked to be sold. Egerton originally approached the British Museum (Natural History) on Agassiz's behalf, but apparently meeting with little interest instead persuaded his brother, Lord Francis Leveson-Gower [later Egerton], later 1st Earl of Ellesmere, to purchase most of the drawings and paintings for £500 in 1843.

By the time the follow up volume 'Monographie des Poissons Fossiles du Vieux Grès Rouge' (1844-1845), had been issued Agassiz's interest had switched to other subjects such as his studies on glaciers and the ice age. In 1846 he left Europe for the United States where he widely lectured at the Lowell Institute, Harvard and Cornell Universities. Following a bout of ill health, Agassiz did briefly return to the study of Brazilian fish in the 1860s.

Agassiz died on 14 December 1873, aged 66.

Notes on artists: The majority of the drawings were undertaken by Agassiz's principal artist Joseph Dinkel, however there are a large number of drawings in the collection by others such Charles Weber (active 1831-1835, 1838) and his first wife Cécilie Agassiz née Braun (active 1831-1835). These other artists' contribution were usually of shorter duration than Dinkel's, for instance Sixtus Heinrich Jarwart and G A H Köppel appear to be active only between 1836-1838, and then drawing specimens only from the collection of Georg Graf von Munster. This period also coincides with the years when Dinkel had left Agassiz's service to pursue an opportunity to purchase a company in Munich which designed carriages. He changed his mind and returned to Agassiz's publishing base in Neuchatel in October 1837.

Some of the drawings appeared to have been attributed to the artists retrospectively but how accurate this process was is unclear as in many cases the drawing style is similar to another artist's work. Where there is a doubt, the phrase 'attributed to...' is used. For the sheets of small teeth in volume 3, Dinkel's name is often attributed to the first drawing in the row - presumably implying that the complete row of drawings are by him. However the drawing style of some of these are again not entirely consistent, and therefore have been described as being by an unknown artist.

Where an image is unsigned, the attribution is based on the style of drawing along with the collection (ie where there are signed drawings by this artist). There are however a number of drawings from particular collection where none are signed making it difficult to suggest a possible author.

Note on suggested dates: Much of the drawings are undated. The attributed dates are based on the drawings from collections by specific artists which are dated, sometimes in conjunction with the publication dates of the plate (see below). Joseph Dinkel, for instance, was drawing in Paris between 1832-1834, was in Neuchatel in 1834 then moved to Britain to draw British material mainly between 1834-1836. In theory the dates of works by Cécilie Agassiz née Braun can be based on her adoption of her married name, however there is evidence that a number of these were signed retrospectively, hence why the longest span date is given.

Note on publication dates: information taken from: Brown, W H, "Dates of publication of 'Recherches sur les Poissons Fossiles...par L Agassiz'...", in Woodward Smith, A, 'A catalogue of British fossil vertebrata', London: Dulau & Co (1890), pp xxv-xxix. Confusingly, the dates given for the citation of the Agassiz specimens within Woodward's text are slightly different.

Notes on identification: the catalogue is based on a listing made between 1977-1981 by Mahala Andrews, a curator from the National Museum of Scotland, as part of the research for her book, 'Discovery of Fossil Fishes in Scotland up to 1845', Edinburgh: Royal Scottish Museum (1982). She provided a photocopy of her draft listing which included identification of some species (where none was given).
ProvenancePresented to the Society by Lord Francis Egerton, 1843. See: GSL/LR/8/23.
ArrangementThe historical arrangement of the sheets as found has been retained.
Access ConditionsCollection is undergoing listing and conservation, but access still may be possible. Please contact archivist in first instance.
LanguageFrench and German
ArchNoteSources: Agassiz, J L R, 'Recherches sur les Poissons Fossiles' (1833-1843/1844); Andrews, S M, 'Discovery of Fossil Fishes in Scotland up to 1845', Edinburgh: Royal Scottish Museum (1982) [Agassiz in Scotland, Scottish fish]; West of England Journal of Science and Literature, vol 1 (1835); Woodward Smith, A, 'A catalogue of British fossil vertebrata', London: Dulau & Co (1890). Description by Caroline Lam
CreatorNameDINKEL | Joseph Wenceslaus | [1806-1891] | natural history artist
AGASSIZ | Jean Louis Rudolphe | 1807-1873 | palaeontologist, zoologist, and geomorphologist
Persons
CodePersonNameDates
DS/UK/44AGASSIZ; Jean Louis Rudolphe (1807-1873); palaeontologist, zoologist, and geomorphologist1807-1873
DS/UK/181DINKEL; Joseph Wenceslas Anton ([1806-1891]); natural history artist[1806-1891]
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