Art of the lost and rare : art works of extinct and endangered animals

by Ann Sylph on

In this blog I am highlighting some of the original art works in ZSL's collections depicting animals which are under threat or are extinct. As so many people did not have the opportunity to visit our exhibition in November 2018  I decided to blog about some of the art works we featured.

Both science and art are so vital to human culture. The value of art in communicating science is increasingly being recognised and valued. Arts and sciences help people to reconnect with nature and to take action to protect it.

ZSL’s collections of art mainly depict animals for scientific purposes often newly discovered species. In the 19th century the best professional zoological artists were engaged by ZSL to illustrate its scientific work and their paintings form a major part of our collection. Equally interesting are the donations from people who worked overseas, especially in India. These drawings demonstrate such a passion for natural history with many individuals making or commissioning hundreds of paintings of animals.

I hope that viewing these art works will encourage you to support  ZSL's purpose to inspire, inform and empower people to stop wild animals going extinct.

Some of the art works in the exhibition have featured in previous blogs so I have focussed on those we have not highlighted before.

I find particularly striking the often vivid colours,  especially of birds. Early photography was black and white whilst museum specimens can fade but in these paintings you can appreciate the sometimes dazzling colours of the extinct species as we can see in the pink headed ducks painted by Henry Jones. Compare these with the black and white photographs from our collections.

Pink-headed ducks by Henry Jones

Pink headed duck - critically endangered, not seen in the wild since 1949. By Henry Jones, circa 1896-1921.

Black and white historic photograph of two pink headed ducks
These pink headed ducks were photographed by ZSL's 'Zoo Man' David Seth-Smith in 1926 at Foxwarren Park. The park was owned by Alfred Ezra, Vice President of ZSL and recipient of the Society's Gold Medal



Painting of a wolf like marsupial, a thylacine or Tasmanian tiger
Thylacine or Tasmanian tiger – extinct 1936, by Joseph Wolf, 1853

Joseph Wolf (1820-1899) was born in Germany into a farming family where he acquired his lifelong love of wildlife. He trained as an artist and lithographer. His magnificent paintings of birds of prey, in life size for H. Schlegel and A.H. Verster van Wulverhorst’s famous book Traité de Fauconnerie (1844-53), sealed Wolf’s reputation on the Continent but there were greater opportunities for natural history artists in England. Wolf did not hesitate when he was encouraged to come to London in 1848 by D.W. Mitchell to share with him the illustration of G.R. Gray’s Genera of birds (1844-49). Mitchell was also the Secretary of ZSL and wanted an accurate artistic record of its newly acquired and attractive animals. Wolf got that commission too; the start of a life-long association with ZSL. In 1848 ZSL's scientific journal, Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (PZS) was published with colour illustrations for the first time. Over the next 30 years Wolf produced 340 colour plates for the Proceedings which were some of the most attractive ever published. This painting was conserved and remounted by paper conservators pH7 with funds from the Michael Marks Trust.

Watercolour painting of an endangered species of horse
Przewalsky horse - endangered. By Joseph Smit, 1901

Joseph Smit (1836-1929) was a zoological artist and lithographer, providing many plates for the publications of the Zoological Society. His son Pierre Jacques Smit (1863-1960) was also a zoological artist.


Pangolin drawing, side view
Sunda pangolin - critically endangered , Samuel Richard Tickell, circa 1854


ZSL Library contains handwritten and illustrated manuscripts of artist Samuel Richard Tickell (1809- 1875) There are 14 volumes, one volume on mammals, one about fish, one devoted to reptiles, crustaceans and insects, the other 11 volumes are devoted to birds.The volumes  have been digitised and the scans can be accessed via our online catalogue so now they can be viewed and used around the world for both research and enjoyment.

Tickell served with British army in India and Burma, rising to the rank of Colonel, and devoted his spare time to painting and describing the fauna of the places where he was stationed. Tickell was Honorary Fellow of ZSL. He was related to Brian Houghton Hodgson through marriage. His sister married William Hodgson, Brian’s brother. Tickell was commander of Hodgson’s military escort to Kathmandu from 1834. He visited Hodgson for 8 months in 1840, leaving early 1841. Tickell influenced the artists employed by Hodgson. See  An introduction to Brian Houghton Hodgson to find out more.

Line drawing of a horseshoe crab showing underside with legs
Horseshoe crab, Limulus moluccanus by Samuel Richard Tickell circa 1854


The IUCN have recently re-categorised the American horseshoe crab as vulnerable.


Painting of a kea, an endangered green parrot in a mountainous landscape
Kea - endangered. by L.A. Daff, circa 1934


Little is known about New Zealand illustrator,  L.A. Daff, but she prepared many illustrations for publication in New Zealand birds by W.R.B. Oliver (1930). She was responsible for the front covers of the magazine Forest and bird'(a New Zealand nature journal) from 1933-1937. Three issues of Avicultural Magazine were illustrated with colour plates of Australasian birds - Kea, Norfolk Island Parakeet and Ruffed (or Solitary) Lory - by Miss Daff in 1934 and 1937


A number of paintings depicting endangered species are permanently displayed in ZSL Library and Archives including :

 Tigress triptych by Helen Cowcher, circa 1970 

Clouded leopard reclining by J. Winkler, circa 1950

Guy the gorilla by William Timyn, circa 1980 

Two tigers by Lilian Cheviot, circa 1900

Maned wolf by John Murray Thompson, 1943 – near threatened

Philippine eagle by George Edward Lodge, 1944 – critically endangered

Dodo in landscape with animals by  Roelandt Savery. c1629.  (Dodo extinct 1662)

Rear view of a dodo, a large extinct flightless bird
Detail of a dodo - extinct 1662. By Roelandt Savery circa 1629

 ZSL Library has an extensive collection of art works and further details can be found in our online catalogue , select the `Search Artworks' button on the sidebar of the catalogue to search specifically for art works.


Other blogs featuring art works displayed in our exhibition :-

Discovering fishes of India : the Francis Day collection of drawings 

Celebrating the Chinese Giant Salamander 

Asian lions by Edward Lear 

Tibetan Antelope by Brian Hodgson


If you are visiting ZSL London Zoo do take the opportunity to admire Art on the EDGE in the East Tunnel. These paintings by street artist Louis Masai, depict six EDGE (Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered) species – Philippine eagle, olm, pygmy three-toed sloth, green sawfish, Lake Oku clawed frog and gharial.


I have used the IUCN categories when stating whether particular animals are extinct or endangered etc. Do find out more about these species in the IUCN red list

ZSL Prince Philip Zoological Library & Archives is a wonderful and unique information resource about animals and their conservation – we aim to inspire, inform, and empower people to stop wild animals going extinct. Information is vitally important in conservation.

Our collections can be explored and discovered in a variety of ways –


ZSL Library & Archives Christmas Closure

We will close on Friday 21 December 2018 and reopen on Monday 14 January.
Please note that although we will be open week beginning 17 December 2018 there will be no access to our Special Collections.

Season's Greetings from ZSL Library & Archives.

Thanks to Ann Datta for additional information and James Godwin for photography.




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