Seen: An Art Deco Kaleidoscope of Insects

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E. A. Séguy, Papillons’ (1925 via Smithsonian Libraries/Biodiversity Heritage Library)

I am enthralled by vintage scientific illustration. Perhaps this dates to a set of books I had when I was young, Golden’s A Guide to Field Identification.  I spent hours with these books, studying the illustrations and descriptions, especially the volumes on seashells and wild flowers. I also poured over the guides to birds, rocks, trees and insects.

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I spent happy hours in my childhood studying Golden Field Identification guides. Still adore these 1960s era illustrations.

So I fell madly in love when I discovered the insect illustrations by Emile-Allain Séguy as I was clicking through blog posts and landed at Hyperallergic and a post titled: Art Deco Patterns of Beetles and Butterflies: These beautiful illustrations are so well composed and beautifully colored. It is like looking at butterflies, moths and beetles through a kaleidoscopic lens.

Séguy adored the organic forms of the natural world and specialized in illustrating uncommon forms of butterflies, beetles, dragonflies, cicadas, grasshoppers and moths. Between 1900 and 1930 Séguy produced 11 albums of patterns based on his scientific observations of nature. His colorful patterns were used in textiles and wallpaper as well as illustrations.

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E. A. Séguy, Insectes’ (1920s via NCSU Libraries)

The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL), a consortium of research insitutions dedicated to the accessibility of biodiversity archives, has shared Séguy’s 1920’s work, Papillons, recently digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.

From the Biodiversity Heritage Library blog:

In 1920, the American textile manufacturer F. Schumacher and Co. commissioned the work Papillons, which was to include stunning compositions of butterflies intended for use as wallpaper, textiles, and other interior and fashion design purposes. Referring to scientific illustrations for reference, Séguy reproduced 81 butterflies within 16 compositions, as well as four additional plates of decorative patterns inspired by butterfly wings, using the pochoir technique.

E. A. Séguy, Papillons’ (1925 via Smithsonian Libraries/Biodiversity Heritage Library)

“Pochoir is the colorful, labor-intensive technique that characterized Art Deco plates, where each color was crisply applied with an individual stencil. Little is known of Séguy’s life; according to  the special collections and archives of Miami University, not even his birth or death dates are clearly recorded. This is partly due to ongoing confusion with French entomologist Eugène Séguy.”

E. A. Séguy, Papillons’ (1925 via Smithsonian Libraries/Biodiversity Heritage Library) E. A. Séguy, Insectes’ (1920s via NCSU Libraries)

Insectes, another 1920s work by the artist Séguy, had all manner of antennaed creature, including moths, bees, wasps, and grasshoppers, transformed into patterns. (North Carolina State University has digitized this album:

Séguy was among several Art Nouveau and Art Deco designers inspired by nature. Marine biology illustrations by Ernst Haeckel  influenced the architext René Binet’s coral-like 1900 Paris Exposition entrance. Émile Gallé’s art glass was decorated with botanical forms, insects and jellyfish. But Séguy stands out for his a scientific perspective, pouring over texts on insects, and carefully labeling each butterfly with its name, even when he transformed them into abstract patterns. Enjoy!



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