These galleries requires the Macromedia
James Chapin Watercolor Gallery: Introduction
As a young scientific explorer of the Congo Basin at the turn of
the century, James P. Chapin was also a remarkably talented artist.
To accompany his detailed descriptions of the fresh specimens he
collected in the field, he skillfully rendered accurate representations
of their individual characteristic colors and dimensions through
his fine watercolors and colored pencil drawings. Some of these
illustrations were later published in scientific papers describing
specimens obtained by the Congo Expedition in the Bulletin of the
American Museum of Natural History. An AMNH Bulletin article on
the fresh-water fishes of the Congo describes the significance of
Painted in the field from living, freshly-captured specimens,
their great value consists in their accuracy. In most cases the
changes of color in dead fish are so rapid and so radical that often
there is not even an indication left of their original beauty. After
a long immersion in the preserving fluid some appear completely
bleached. To give an idea of some of the difficulties an artist
has to contend with, we might point out that in the forest regions
the moisture was sometimes so great that during the process of painting,
these sketches had to be held over the fire, to dry one shade after
the other so that the different colors would not flow together.
It is interesting to note that they are the first records of this
kind for fishes from the Congo Basin (Nicholas).
In addition to fishes, his subjects include lizards, toads, snakes,
frogs, bats and most foretelling, birds, his true passion as he
was eventually to become the Curator of Ornithology of the American
Museum of Natural History. Despite the challenging working conditions
of the Congo, James P. Chapin created not only beautiful works of
art but invaluable contributions to the wealth of knowledge in the
AMNH Congo collection.
Nicholas, John Treadwell and Ludlow Griscom, Fresh-Water
Fishes of the Congo Basin Obtained by the American Museum Congo
Expedition, 1909-1915. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural
History, Vol. 37, art.25, p.653, 1917.