Scientific Illustrators: Artists in Residence in the Castle - John H. Richard

Smithsonian Institution Building, The Castle

Bringing together artist and naturalist to illuminate nature.

This exhibit is part of a series that offers a glimpse of the work of four scientific illustrators who worked in the Smithsonian Institution Building between 1852 and 1898: William Stimpson, John H. Richard, Robert Ridgway, and his brother John L. Ridgway.
Scientific illustration is one part of what makes a museum collection important. Its purpose is to enhance and support scientific research by showing minute details and distinguishing characteristics of the specimens being studied.

Joseph Henry, the first secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, established a program to publish scientific research in 1848, a mere two years after the founding of the Smithsonian. Henry recognized the great importance of publishing research with detailed illustrations, stating that it was key to "diffusing a kind of knowledge now only accessible to the few."

John H. Richard
John H. Richard (1807-1881) first worked in the Smithsonian Building between 1852 and 1855 illustrating the reports of several government exploring expeditions. These included the Wilkes Expedition, the Mexican Boundary Survey, and the U.S. Pacific Railroad Expedition and Survey. Between 1855 and 1875 Richard worked independently in Philadelphia, frequently taking on Smithsonian commissions, such as hand coloring the drawings of birds by ornithologist Robert Ridgway.

John H. Richard’s skill as a lithographer and engraver was honed while he was employed by the Philadelphia printing firm of Peter S. Duval between 1841 and 1843. During that time, Richard experimented with a new process of lithography called “lithotinting.” The process was technically demanding, involving the printing of several graded washes that produced an effect similar to watercolor or aquatint. In collaboration with Duval, John Richard produced what was said to be one of the first true lithotints in America, entitled “Grandpapa’s Pet.”

- “Grandpapa’s Pet,” Lithotint, by John H. Richard, from:
“Miss Leslie’s Magazine,” April, 1843.
Color photocopy.

These lithographs were produced in the 1850s to illustrate publications of various expeditions across the United States.

“Crotalus lecontii, Hallow”

Lithograph from a drawing by John H. Richard. From: “Reports of the U.S. Pacific Railroad Expedition and Surveys,” 1859, Vol. X, Pl. III.

“Thomomys laticeps - Baird & Broad-headed Gopher”

Lithograph from a drawing by John H. Richard. From: “Reports of the U.S. Pacific Railroad Expedition and Surveys,” 1859, Vol. X, Pl. XII.

“Ostrea Gregaria”

Lithograph from a drawing by John H. Richard. From: “The Report of the U.S. Naval Astronomical Expedition to the
Southern Hemisphere...,” 1855, Vol. II, Pl. XLI.

“Dryophis Vittatus”

Lithograph from a drawing by John H. Richard. From: “The Report of the U.S. Naval Astronomical Expedition to the
Southern Hemisphere...,” 1855, Vol.II, Pl.XXXVI.

In 1875, Richard returned to Washington to prepare the Smithsonian’s natural history exhibits for the 1876 Centennial Exhibition to be held in Philadelphia. His painted plaster casts of fishes and several of his tinted drawings of fish were included in the exhibition. John Richard’s final project before his death in 1881 was the preparation of the Smithsonian’s fish casts for the 1880 Fishery Exhibition in Berlin for which the Smithsonian was awarded grand prize.

- Government Building at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia

Memorial Hall is one of the few remaining buildings from the 1876 Centennial Exposition. It now houses Philadelphia's Please Touch Museum. The fountain across the street stands on the site of the former Main Exhibition Building's Music Pavilion.

The Smithsonian played a major role at the Centennial Exposition in assembling and mounting the exhibits in the Government Building. Spencer F. Baird, the Assistant Secretary of the Institution proposed a two-part display. One dealt with the Institution itself and its research role, while the other part was a comprehensive display of the natural history, animal, and mineral resources of the United States combined with displays of their economic utility.

One such exhibit was the commercial fisheries display which in addition to showing commercially valuable fishes from American waters, also featured an extensive collection of boats and tackle as well as whaling apparatus. Many fish specimens were exhibited: fresh fish were laid out in open ice boxes, others were preserved in alcohol. Also on exhibit were photographs, watercolor drawings, and the life-size plaster casts that had been painted by ]ohn H. Richard. They were arranged row upon row on two long free-standing panels.

Text adapted from: the exhibition catalogue for "1876, A Centennial Exhibition," 1976, essay on the Smithsonian Institution exhibits, Claudine Klose.

- View of the Smithsonian’s exhibit at the “United States International Exhibition,” Philadelphia, 1876 showing the fish casts molded by Joseph Palmer and painted by John H. Richard.From: "Frank Leslie's Illustrated Historical Register of the Centennial Exposition, 1876."

These six plaster fish casts are all that remain of the 383 painted by John H. Richard in 1875 for display at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. Serving the same purpose as two-dimensional scientific illustrations, they preserve a record of the specimens’ anatomical details and coloration as well as exhibiting the fish full size and in three dimensions.

Courtesy of the Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Fishes, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

Late in his career, John H. Richard posed in this skylit artist’s studio with examples of his life’s work spread around him. Plaster casts of fish, modeled by the Smithsonian’s taxidermist, Joseph Palmer and hand-painted by Richard, were stacked around the perimeter of the room while his earlier paintings of reptiles, amphibians, and fish were also displayed.

- Photograph of John H. Richard in his studio in the Smithsonian Building,
ca. 1878-1880.

Credits: Story

Richard Stamm
Curator of the Smithsonian Institution Castle Collection

Marc Bretzfelder
Office of the Chief Information Officer

Credits: All media
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