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Drawn to Nature: Gilbert White and the Artists

[ Exhibition )

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A man in 18th century dress leans on a spade looking down at a tortoise in a garden, with a small greenhouse behind him.

Eric Ravilious, The Tortoise in the Kitchen Garden from ‘The Writings of Gilbert White of Selborne’, ed., H.J. Massingham (London, The Nonsuch Press, 1938), Private Collection

The natural world as seen through the eyes of Eric Ravilious, John Nash, John Piper and other artists.

Since its publication over 200 years ago Gilbert White’s The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne has inspired generations of naturalists, writers and artists.

Gilbert White (1720 – 1793) was one of the first naturalists, influencing both Charles Darwin and David Attenborough. His seminal work The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne also inspired generations of writers and artists, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Virginia Woolf, Eric Ravilious and John Nash.

White’s Natural History recounts his daily observations of the animals, birds and plant life found on his doorstep in Hampshire and nearby in the South Downs in Sussex. It was an immediate success upon its publication in 1789 and has never been out of print. It has over 300 editions, many of which were illustrated by an array of exceptional artists.

This exhibition reveals the many different visions of Selborne and its wildlife inspired by White’s writings, created by artists such as Thomas Bewick, Eric Ravilious, John Nash and Gertrude Hermes. It includes original prints, blocks and the First Edition illustrated by Samuel Hieronymous Grimm.

Thomas Bewick, the founding father of British wood-engraving, was influenced by White’s observations on birds, and his images in later inspired 20th century wood-engravers such as Eric Fitch-Daglish, John Nash and Gertrude Hermes. While these artists beautifully rendered the flora and fauna of Selborne, artists such as Ravilious and John Nash focused on man’s interactions with nature, creating timeless scenes of country life. These include amusing incidents such as John Nash’s illustrations of curious women taking a liking to a toad at a dinner party. Other artists chose to illustrate the surrounding landscapes, including John Piper’s atmospheric watercolours of Selborne Church.

Eleven contemporary printmakers and illustrators have produced new images inspired by White’s Natural History for this exhibition, which demonstrate the enduring appeal of his writings for artists. Together these images encourage us to look to the nature on our doorstep that is under threat from climate change and the impact of human activity.

‘Drawn to Nature: Gilbert White and the Artists’ is part of a series of events across the UK, marking the tercentenary of Gilbert White’s birth. For more information, visit Gilbert White’s House in Selborne.

Plan your visit

Please visit our FAQs to find out more about how we are making your visit as safe and enjoyable as possible.

As a precaution against coronavirus we have removed hard copy versions of our large print labels from the gallery spaces.

We encourage anyone who would like large print labels to download them in advance of their visit.

Download the labels for the Print Room exhibition

Download the labels for the contemporary commissions

We have also implemented a one-way system through the Gallery. You can download a copy of the floorplan ahead of your visit as well.

Download the floorplan

The History of Selborne is a grand book and I read it every minute I can spare from engraving and other jobs

Eric Ravilious

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