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AGASSIZ, Jean Louis Rudolphe (1807-1873)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 378 LDGSL/613-616
Held at: Geological Society of London
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Full title: AGASSIZ, Jean Louis Rudolphe (1807-1873)
Date(s): 1831-1844
Level of description: Series
Extent: 2960 drawings on 1228 sheets
Name of creator(s): Agassiz | Jean Louis Rudolphe | 1807-1873
Agassiz | Cécilie | 1809-1848 | née Braun | natural history artist and first wife of Louis Agassiz
Bourkhardt | Jacques | fl 1808-1867 | natural history artist
Dinkel | Joseph Wenceslas Anton | [1806-1891] | natural history artist
Hellmuth | Thomas | fl 1835 | natural history artist
Hogard | Henri | 1808-1880 | watercolourist and lithographer
Jarwart | Sixtus Heinrich | 1813-1865 | natural history artist
Koppel | G A H | fl 1836-1838 | natural history artist
Nicolet | Hercule | 1801-1872 | artist, lithographer and entomologist
Stiven | Jonathan | [c.1799]-1872 | geological artist
Vogt | Carl Christoph | 1817-1895 | scientist
Weber | J Charles | fl 1831-1835 | natural history artist


Administrative/Biographical history:

Jean 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 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) 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 have worked for Agassiz only between 1836-1838, which is likely to coincide with the period 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.


Scope and content/abstract:

Drawings and watercolour paintings of fossil fish by Joseph Dinkel, J C Weber, Cécilie Agassiz, Jacques Bourkhardt, G A H Köppel and Sixtus Heinrich Jarwart and others, commissioned by Jean Louis Rudolphe Agassiz for his publications 'Recherches sur les Poissons Fossiles' (1833-1844) and the follow up 'Monographie des Poissons Fossiles du Vieux Grès Rouge' (1844-1845). Also includes drawings commissioned by Lord William Willoughby Cole (1807-1886), later the Earl of Enniskillen, and Sir Philip de Malpas Egerton (1806-1881) of their own fossil cabinets.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

The collection is arranged in 'volumes' and 'folios', and seems to be the original order as specified by Agassiz and Enniskillen. The three accessions were split into four different series, being:

LDGSL/613 - Drawings and paintings of fossil fish by Joseph Dinkel and others, the original artwork for Jean Louis Rudolphe Agassiz's 'Recherches sur les Poissons Fossiles' (1833-1844). Arranged in 'six volumes'.
LDGSL/614 - Unpublished drawings and paintings of fossil fish by Joseph Dinkel and others. Arranged in 3 'folios'.
LDGSL/615 - Drawings, paintings and one photograph of Devonian fossil fish and eurypterids by Joseph Dinkel and others published in Jean Louis Rudolphe Agassiz's 'Recherches sur les Poissons Fossiles' and 'Monographie des Poissons Fossiles du Vieux Grès Rouge', marked 'folio 4'.
LDGSL/616 - Drawings and paintings of fossil fish in the collections of Sir Phillip de Malpas Egerton and William Willoughy Cole, Earl of Enniskillen, principally by Joseph Dinkel, marked 'Folios 5 and 6'.

Conditions governing access:

The collection is currently closed whilst it is undergoing cataloguing, conservation and digitisation.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copies, subject to copyright and the condition of the original, may be supplied. Requests to publish original material should be submitted to the Archivist.

Finding aids:

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

The Society received the first donation of drawings from Lord Francis Egerton in 1843. A second accession, of 568 sheets of drawings and paintings, many of which were unpublished, was given by Louis Agassiz himself in 1858. The final donation in 1876 came from the Earl of Enniskillen and includes images from Agassiz's follow up work 'Monographie des Poissons Fossiles du Vieux Grès Rouge' (1844-1845).

Allied Materials

Related material:

Publication note:

Much of the drawings were used as the basis for the artwork for Louis Agassiz's 'Recherches sur les Poissons Fossiles' (1833-1844) and its follow up 'Monographie des Poissons Fossiles du Vieux Grès Rouge' (1844-1845); the collection was used as part of the research for the publication: Andrews, S M. 'The Discovery of Fossil Fishes in Scotland up to 1845', Royal Scottish Museum Edinburgh, 1982.

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Description by Caroline Lam

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
September 2013

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