Louis Agassiz Fuertes

There is a small, but extraordinary exhibit currently up at the Field Museum. I have already visited the little gallery that contains it three times, and plan to go more. Fuertes was one of the greatest natural history illustrators of the twentieth century. Although he painted mammals as well as birds, this exhibit focuses on a batch of bird watercolors he produced for a 1927 research trip to Abyssinia. Not only are they remarkable for the fact that many were produced in the field without the convenience and comfort of today's technology, but they are also remarkable for the way Fuertes seemed to be able to capture the soul and fierce spirit of his subject matter. His brushstrokes, especially when rendering feathers, are precise without being sterile and overdone. Capturing the gestures and postures specific to each species was the result of his careful observations, and a near photographic memory. I prefer these field paintings to his more finished pieces for their directness and spontaneity. Shortly after returning from Ethiopia, Fuertes was tragically killed by his car being hit by a train. His wife survived, and in addition, all of the Abyssinian paintings were miraculously thrown clear of the wreck. They were later donated to the Field Museum, and are a beautiful tribute to African wildlife and one of our most gifted wildlife artists.

The Painted Bird: Louis Agassiz Fuertes
September 12, 2008—January 4, 2009


  1. You should have written the text for the exhibit! You've made me curious about Fuentes, though of course I'd never heard of him before your post. Any biographies you might recommend?

    Glad to see you back on the blog!

  2. Another great reason to visit Chicago this winter! Thanks for putting this out there.

  3. Yeah, if you're in the neighborhood you should definitely check it out. The paintings are exquisite.


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