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The Natural Eye

Exhibition celebrates British wildlife in painting and sculpture
Bronze pangolin

Main image: Nick Mackman SWLA Pangolin

Many of us discovered a love of local wildlife while in lockdown, appreciating the creatures living in our gardens and parks with a ten-fold increase in people taking up birdwatching while working from home.

So, how many species will you be able to recognise in The Society of Wildlife Artists Annual Exhibition this year?

Opening today (14 October) and running until 24 October at London’s Mall Galleries, The Natural Eye boasts paintings of many of the UK’s favourite and most iconic members of the animal kingdom – from badgers, hedgehogs and foxes to blue tits and puffins.

A number of artists including Kittie Jones, Richard Allen and Robert Greenhalf have specialised this year in waterfowl and seabirds, while Lousie Scammell has gone beneath the surface of the water to paint cuttlefish and brittle stars.

The decline of eels

Julia Manning has produced a series of prints mourning ‘The Decline of Eels’, a species which once thrived in London rivers but is now considered critically endangered.

‘The European eel is classed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, it appears on their Red List of threatened species. Since 1970, the numbers of juvenile eels entering the European fishery has declined by more than 95%. These Anguillid eels have been around for about 80 million years.

‘Glass eels come in from the sea and ascend our waterways; once they’ve been in freshwater for a short time they change into elvers. They become pigmented and resemble miniature versions of their pre-adult selves. They continue to grow and seek suitable habitat in which to thrive. At this early stage these elvers and small yellow eels are sexually undifferentiated. They will either stay relatively small and become males in a fairly densely populated part of the river system, normally the lower, downstream areas, or they will move further upstream into less densely populated areas where they will become females and grow much larger. The gender trigger appears to be density dependent.

‘The many weirs and manmade obstructions that are used to regulate and control river flows may hinder these upstream migrations. Special ‘eel passes’ have been designed and can be installed to overcome these obstacles.’


Celebrating the pangolin

Another creature featured at the exhibition is the pangolin, which very few of us will have seen in person. Nick Mackman’s bronze celebrates the most trafficked animal in the world, and one that was perhaps unfairly implicated in spreading the corona virus to humans.

‘I’ve long been captivated by the pangolin’s beautiful form and delicate scales and wanted to celebrate this in a sculpture as a pangolin uncurls from its defensive ball.

‘Capturing the intricacy of its scales was truly a labour of love, each one having to be painstakingly modelled. Pangolins have a rich brown patina which means they are perfectly suited to bronze: emphasising their shape, form and texture.’


Top wildlife art

The Society of Wildlife Artists is a registered charity that seeks to generate an appreciation of and delight in the natural world through all forms of fine art based on or representing the world’s wildlife.

It is a showcase for the very best of art inspired by the natural world. Included with the work of members from the UK, mainland Europe, North America and Russia is that of successful Bursary applicants, as well as a large selection of work from non-members.  

The Natural Eye is considered the foremost event in the British wildlife art calendar.

The exhibition will be open to the public, with Covid safety measures in place, from 14 to 24 October, Mall Galleries, The Mall, London SW1.

For those not yet able to travel, a virtual tour will allow an online stroll around the gallery from the comfort of your home.As always, all the works are available to browse and buy online, too.

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