The Chinese Fish Collection is a large set of 19th century watercolour sketches depicting species from the waterways and seas of China and Japan.
The illustrations range from the absurd to the accurate and the selection below skews intentionally towards the former. The captions are all taken from the source site.
Holland's Groningen University plays host to a unique collection of 19th century watercolour sketches produced somewhere, some time, in the far east of Asia. Two boxes, containing more than 450 drawings, were bequeathed to the University's Natural History Department in about 1870 via the estate of the former Dutch consul in Canton, MJ Senn van Basel (d. 1863).
There is little in the way of background information online relating to this collection (story of this blog's life). It's not known whether the set was commissioned or purchased by van Basel and there's no indication as to the name(s) or origin(s) of the artist(s) involved.
Pencilled notations of the Latin name(?) of the species and what is likely the surname of the person who first described the animal - (eg. Cuvier or Linnaeus etc) - appear on all the sketches, as well as the less formal species names written in Chinese characters. It's quite possible both sets of handwriting were later additions.
But the charm of the series really derives from the stylised and amusing, near-anthropomorphic, representations and vivid colours of the marine animals, rather than in the degree of scientific accuracy. While there was some active prejudice in the selection of the examples above, the bizarre and absurd types certainly outnumber the regular, run of the mill sketches in the collection, that's for sure. And thankful we all are too!
- 'Afbeeldingen van Chinese vissen, HS 433' is online at the Groningen University Library and consists of more than 450 digitised marine animal sketches. An icon near the zoom slider brings up a thumbnail image page, but be warned: it's like one of those old 'wheel-spinning' Java applets and it killed my (G-Chrome) browser a couple of times, so the thumbnail page was actually less than useless for me; paging through the sketches ended up being easier and more productive.
- The Groningen Library special collections blog, 'The World of Books'[T], provided a dedicated blog post in 2008 about the series [Trans.].
- The Groningen Library catalogue entry.
- Previously: science and marine and fauna --> related summary bookmarks for this here BibliOdyssey blog.