Science and Art: the Work of Eugene Seguy

It is a statement of the obvious to remind my readers that, when it comes to perfect design, noone has ever held a candle to mother nature. The extreme diversity, the glorious patterns, the strange aesthetic connections we make between flora and fauna – what a gift to have the ability to witness and analyze the incredible conversations that transpire between all living things, sentient and not.

And while universally unpopular, perhaps this magnificence is most striking in a world that we are desperate to disregard. It is a world that disgusts us, a world that we are hellbent on squashing and spraying with aerosol and eradicating from our lives entirely. I am talking, of course, about the tragically misunderstood yet noble insect.

Images by Eugene Seguy:

Earlier today, I was positively floored upon seeing the first examples of Eugene Seguy’s work that I’d ever had the pleasure of stumbling across. This is coming from an admitted dilettante, but I’ve always been under the impression that there is a proud history and tradition of scientific illustration in France. Seeing antique posters at les puces showing various stages of a chicken’s embryonic development or the elaborate metamorphosis of the butterfly in its chrysalis immediately brings me back to my childhood love of biology. They are engaging and fascinating, and they are no doubt beautiful.

But Seguy’s work is something more. A remarkably prolific artist during the first three decades of the 20th century, Seguy was also a scientist who served as chair of entomology at the natural history museum of Paris. His experience and knowledge of his subject allowed him to celebrate critters that had been ignored and even feared while showcasing their misunderstood and undervalued beauty.

Images by Eugene Seguy:

Over the course of his career, he created 11 albums of illustrations and patterns which were eventually compiled by Dover Publications in “Seguy’s Decorative Butterflies and Insects in Full Color.” One quote that I stumbled upon repeatedly while perusing various articles was from this anthology:

“His aim was to make available dozens of examples of extremely colorful exotic animals that had been unjustly neglected by occidental decorative artists because of their rarity in life and in illustration. It is interesting to note that Seguy, while confident that butterflies would be readily accepted, made the special plea for the other insects that were constructed like wonderful machines and were thus entitled to the same consideration as an airplane fuselage, an ocean liner or locomotive; nature was a successful industrial designer!”

Images by Eugene Seguy:

Intrigued by a new production technique of the early 20th century – pochoir, a partially automated printing method that involves hand painting stencils (this video is highly recommended) – Seguy was able to create multiple prints that would continuously evolve as the stencils were being used. As Ashley Jones states in her article, “While simple in concept, pochoir could become quite complex in practice, with some images requiring the use of 100 or so stencils to produce a single print.”

Upon learning this and seeing but a few examples of Seguys extensive body of work, it becomes clear that his collection of albums was quite the undertaking – and arguably a labor of love.

seguy5.jpeg

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About fauxfrench

Voolay foo foo shay allequoi. Ze za.
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