- Museum number
An orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus), formerly in an album originally containing 167 drawings of quadrupeds; seated on a bench and holding a staff in its left hand
- Production date
Height: 499 millimetres
Width: 346 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- This drawing is related to the etching (dated 1757) made in reverse by George Edwards in his ‘Gleanings of Natural History’, volume I, plate 213, where he wrote: “The subject from which this figure was drawn, is now preserved in the British Museum, in London: it was a young one, and about two feet and an half high when it died: it was first soaked in spirits of wine, then dried, and set up in the action I have given it, the draught being taken before its parts were too much dried or fallen in. [...] About fifty years ago was published an anatomical description, by Edward Tyson, MD of this same animal, which he calls the Pigmy, wherein he has given figures of it: and since him, AD 1738, a figure was published of one that was brought from the coast of Africa, called Chimp-anzee, and shown in London; which print is inscribed to Sir Hans Sloane. But neither of these prints were satisfactory to me [...] for which reason I have published this figure, the original whereof was with great care done by me, to be preserved amongst the drawings of animals, in the Museum of the late Sir Hans Sloane, Bart. now in the British Museum.”
This text is revealing for several reasons. The specimen in both Edwards’ drawing and etching has small ears and red-brown hair, suggesting his animal was an orangutan. However in the other publications Edwards mentions, Edward Tyson’s ‘Orang-Outang, sive Homo Sylvestris: or the Anatomy of a Pygmie compared with that of a Monkey, an Ape, and a Man’ (1699), and the ‘Chimp-anzee’ print (1738; see BM 1914,0520.554), the specimens have much larger ears, indicating the animals were chimpanzees. This would explain why Edwards found the earlier figures unsatisfactory – he was comparing different species. In fact during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century people regularly used the term ‘orang-outang’ to refer to the animals we now know as chimpanzees, so Tyson was correct at the time; however, in this case it seems his usage greatly contributed to Edwards’ confusion some fifty years later. The text clearly shows that Edwards sometimes used his contributions to the Sloane collection of drawings as a resource on which to draw, turning to them when compiling his latest publication. For further evidence of Edwards' practice of revisiting drawings, see SL,5261.98 and SL,5261.114.
The album contains a long series of drawings of mammals by artists of different schools from the XVI to the XVIII centuries. Several drawings have been removed and mounted. Some of the later drawings would have been executed for Sloane, probably as copies after sketches made from the subjects. They are mounted on purple-toned paper. The binding is brown leather, gilt, lettered on the spine: Drawings of Quadrupeds/Mus. Brit./Bibl. Sloan./5261/Plut. XLIV.B. Attached to one of the endpapers is an inscription, presumably relating to one of the drawings contained within the album.
From album SL,5261.1 to 167.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1987 Feb-May, BM, An A-Z of P&D (no cat)
2017-2018 24 Nov-11 Jan, London, BM, G90a, Sloane & Medicine
- Associated titles
Associated Title: Gleanings of natural history (1758-1764)
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Transferred to Prints and Drawings from the Department of Manuscripts.17 November 1886 (see note on fly-leaf).
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number