The Secret Career of 19th Century Naturalist Ernst Haeckel

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You've probably seen Ernst Haeckel's amazing naturalist drawings of squid and other creatures of the sea. But did you know he started his career as a greeting card designer?

Historical detective John Holbo uncovered this heretofore unknown detail about the celebrated nineteenth century naturalist's life, and has released several of Haeckel's long-lost Christmas cards. Holbo writes:

Ernst Haeckel's 1904 "Kunstformen der Natur" [Artforms of Nature] is a classic of biological illustration. What is less generally known is that the artist started as a Christmas card designer. The book was originally simply an album of holiday designs.

"All the sweet things that the Squiddies/Twittering in the dewy spray/Wish each other in the springtime/I wish you this happy day."

During the Victorian era Christmas was indeed regarded as a 'happy' day, but one of uncanny terror; accordingly, cards and ornamentation featured strange creatures with too many tentacles. But then Santa Claus became popular, and many of these older designs 'fell out of fashion'.

Commercially marooned, unable to draw anything except tentacles and congeries of pustules/bubbles, Haeckel wandered into natural 'science' - almost as an afterthought - when he discovered that the stuff he had been drawing actually existed, give or take a tentacle. Isn't that interesting?


You can view the rest of these amazing Xmas cards at Holbo's Flickr stream, or buy reproductions of them from Cafepress. Happy tentacles!