Feathers are evolutionary marvels: aerodynamic, insulating, and beautiful. Birds of paradise, herons, toucans, and hummingbirds have evolved an amazing diversity of feather form, color, and function. The most dramatic outcome of sexual selection in these groups is the colorful plumage of the males. These deceptively delicate works of nature have been used as personal adornments, ritual objects, decorative artifacts, and tools.
Recent donations of hand-colored lithographs from British ornithologist John Gould’s nineteenth-century folio publications depict birds with some of the most elaborate plumage in the world. Splendid Plumage showcases the feathery adaptations displayed by birds of Australia, New Guinea, Asia, Europe, and Central America as pictured in the works of Gould and others. This exhibition will be the first time most of these works have been on view at the Museum.