Charles Bradford Hudson
Blending Art and Science
By Stephanie Guzik, (Volunteer Science Writer)
An article presenting the lifetime work of the artist Charles Bradford Hudson (1865-1939) may seem out of place at the Museum of Natural History. However, a closer look at his many endeavors reveals his role in the field of ichthyology. In a new biography, Drawn to the Sea, by Victor G. Springer and Kristin A. Murphy of Smithsonian's Division of Fishes, and published as a special issue of the journal Marine Fisheries Review, Hudson's life is presented in intricate detail with abundant illustrations. Hudson's activities ranged widely, including authorship and time in the military. But the mainstay of his career was his art, and of particular interest to the Smithsonian are his many illustrations (80 black and white; 78 color) of fishes, the originals of almost all of which are held in the Division of Fishes' illustration files. Most of this large collection of Hudson's paintings and drawings first appeared in scientific publications issued within a few years of their preparation. Several others were first published as many as 44 to 58 years after Hudson died. Hudson's fish illustrations provide a platform for acknowledging the role that art has played in ichthyology.
Charles Bradford Hudson: Author
Hudson penned a wide variety of publications during his lifetime. His political commentaries touting the work and economic benefits of the United States Fisheries Commission (USFC, later known as the United States Bureau of Fisheries) were written to inform the general public of the federal government's attempt to increase fisheries productivity. While studying art in Paris, he published a historically informative social commentary on the Latin Quarter that provided a lively description of its daily life along with many of his own illustrations depicting the architecture and dress of the time period. There were also two, non-illustrated political commentaries, one in the New York Times castigating Germany for its actions during World War I, and the other, in Popular Science Monthly, presciently predicting the rise of Chinese militarism. Hudson published two historical novels, the first, in 1907, titled "The Crimson Conquest," was a love story set in the time of Pizzaro's conquest of the Incas. It included a controversial romance between a Spanish commander and an Incan princess. His second novel, "The Royal Outlaw," was published in 1917 and used the Bible's Old Testament as a backdrop for a story of the conflict between David and King Saul.
Hudson also penned and illustrated a few popular science articles. One of these, titled "Curious Breadwinners of the Deep," investigated the peculiar habits of various fishes, including the archer fish, which "hunts" its non-aquatic prey by shooting it with a squirt of water, and the mudskipper, which can breathe out of water for long periods of time as long as it stays moist.
Charles Bradford Hudson: War Veteran
While Hudson was writing some of his articles and illustrating those of other authors, he was also serving in the military. He originally enlisted as a soldier in the District of Columbia National Guard in 1888 and ultimately rose to the rank of captain. When the Guard was called to duty with the United States Army during the Spanish American War (1899), he served as a 1st Lieutenant, Company K. During his service in Cuba, he contracted yellow fever, the after effects of which would plague him for many years. Even so, he applied for further enlistment in the Army after the war, but his request was denied because, at age 37, he was considered too old. Regardless of his discharge, many of his friends and colleagues called him Captain Hudson for the remainder of his life.
Charles Bradford Hudson: Artist
The most enduring of Hudson's endeavors was his art. In fact, Hudson's artwork (originals and reproductions) continues to be bought and sold today in the fine art marketplace.
Initially, Hudson was hired to illustrate fishing boats for the USFC's exhibit in the 1888 Cincinnati Centennial Exposition under the direction of J.W. Collins, who, in 1886, led the construction of the USFC's research schooner Grampus. Among other boat illustrations, Hudson generated a series of artistic renderings of the Grampus, inside and out, that were used at the Exposition and in several publications after the event. Hudson's artistic talent led to varied contracts, such as for illustrating taxidermy specimens for a book by William Temple Hornaday, first director of the National Zoological Park, flowers and fruits for the famous horticulturist, Luther Burbank, a book of poems by Juan Lewis (which included a poem entitled "Song of the Sea,"), and open requests by Gump's Department Store in San Francisco for his paintings of seascapes and landscapes – one of which still hangs in the Royal Palace in Sweden.
His skill in painting landscapes brought him to the California Academy of Sciences (CAS), where director Barton Warren Evermann hired him to paint the backgrounds of their groundbreaking new form of exhibit, the diorama. These exhibits featured life-like models of animals posed in a setting meant to look like their natural habitat. The backgrounds of these exhibits were murals up to 18 X 25 ft (5.5 X 7.6 m), painted with intricate detail to match the landscape where these animals would occur in nature. Among the range of murals painted by Hudson were a seascape for a seal exhibit, a desert bird exhibit, two savannah settings for African mammals, and a montane background for an exhibit of grizzly bears.
Fishes, in Living Color
Before becoming the director at CAS, Barton Warren Evermann was an ichthyologist with the USFC. In 1900, shortly after the United States acquired Hawaii as a territory, the USFC launched an expedition to examine its potential fisheries. Hudson was hired by Evermann to produce oil paintings of the life color of fishes caught by the expedition. According to a contemporary article in the Honolulu Evening Bulletin newspaper, Hudson took about a week to complete each painting, using living specimens in an aquarium as his models to render the exact color of each fish.
Hudson's depictions of fishes were all done from 1896 to 1912 and were considered to be the best done by any artist, and are still highly regarded. Along with the Hawaiian fishes and those from the High Sierras, Hudson also painted and sketched specimens from across the United States as well as specimens that ichthyologists had collected in Canada, Argentina, and Japan.
Changing times, Relatively Unchanging Strategies
During Hudson's day, scientists in the field would take detailed notes about the physical traits of each specimen that were often used later in published descriptions of the specimen in academic texts and journals. Specimens would be preserved in jars containing formalin or alcohol, which provided a tangible asset to ichthyologists who would study the specimen years later. In fact, the Smithsonian Division of Fishes houses the world's largest collection of fishes, with over 500,000 lots of specimens (on average, each lot is estimated to include 8 specimens). The collection also includes the largest number of primary types, those specimens that have been used as the bases on which new species were described – and one of the major reasons why the Smithsonian Institution is considered a treasure-trove of information for ichthyological research.
Illustrations like Hudson's, both color and black and white, were important additions to the information collected in the field about each specimen. Black and white illustrations provided ample information about the structure, general anatomy and size of each specimen, while colored illustrations also provided a detailed depiction of the life color of the species. Documenting these physical details is essential because most specimens lose their color and shrink or become deformed when they are preserved. In some cases, specific color markings are the best (and sometimes the only) way to identify a species.
Today, parts of the process of documenting ichthyological specimens have changed, while others remain fairly similar to the methods that were used in Hudson's day. Specimens collected in the field and are still analyzed by scientists who take detailed notes about the specimens and associated information like their habitat and the water depth where they were captured. The specimen is then preserved and deposited in a collection for later research or is used as a voucher.
What has changed is the variety of technologies that have enabled scientists to vastly sharpen the scope of their descriptive efforts. The use of digital photography, genetics, microscopy, and imaging technologies like X-rays and CT scanning allow scientists to add detailed information to existing records of specimens. Additionally, technology has allowed scientists to quickly share and access data online when they need to identify a specimen.
But these new technologies do not replace the information provided by earlier descriptive and collection strategies, and no piece of specimen documentation is more useful than the primary type specimen used for the description of a new species. New technologies can only add to the information we know about a previously described species.
As for the visual documentation of a living specimen, digital photography has largely replaced traditional illustrations of the living specimen as the standard method of recording the color and anatomy of the specimen in the field today. During Hudson's career, color photography was not readily available, was very expensive, and was difficult to use in the field. His illustrations (colored and black and white) and those of other artists provided a still-life, detailed depiction of a real-life specimen. Such Illustrations are still considered scientifically important because they can stress fine anatomical features (e.g., tiny pores, small scales) that are often obscured by liquid (think how water covers up fine scratches on glass). Even today, illustrations like Hudson's are referenced in research and, in fact, are sometimes the only physical records of what a now-extinct (or near-extinct) fish looked like in life.
Artistic records such as the Hudson collection of fishes are invaluable additions to specimen records and such artwork continues to be an invaluable asset in the scientific process.
Acknowledgements: V. G. Springer contributed to the preparation of this highlight.
To see full biography and additional Charles Bradford Hudson artwork click on the following link:
Springer, Victor G. and Murphy, Kristin A. 2010. Drawn to the Sea: Charles Bradford Hudson (1865-1939), Artist, Author, Army Officer, with Special Notice of His Work for the United States Fish Commission and Bureau of Fisheries. Marine Fisheries Review, 71(4): 1-116.
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