Jacques Burkhardt Collection

See also: Thayer Expedition Papers

A Library Digital Initiative

Jacques Burkhardt and the Thayer Expedition to Brazil (1865-1866) is a Harvard University Library Digital Initiative (LDI) project providing online access to the Ernst Mayr Library’s Jacques Burkhardt Collection of watercolors and pencil drawings as well as other Thayer Expedition Papers–correspondence, field notes, diaries, sketches, photographs, specimen records and other materials relating to the fifteen-month collecting expedition to Brazil led by Louis Agassiz.


Jacques Burkhardt


Born circa 1808, Jacques Burkhardt was Louis Agassiz’s personal and principal artist. Having studied in Munich and Rome, the Swiss painter served as Agassiz’s full-time artist in Neuchatel in the early 1840s. After Agassiz left for America, Burkhardt reunited with him in New York in 1847 and spent most of his career drawing under the MCZ founder’s supervision. Burkhardt’s turtle illustrations for Agassiz’s quintessential work, Contributions to the Natural History of the United States (4 v., 1857-1862)–widely considered the most elaborately produced American zoological publication of the era–helped establish Burkhardt’s reputation within the natural history community. Burkhardt’s zoological drawings and landscapes produced during the Thayer Expedition to Brazil (1865-1866) were the culmination of a brilliant although unpublicized career, and he passed away ten months after returning to Cambridge due to an illness aggravated by Brazil’s hot climate.


Thayer Expedition

(Pictured sitting on floor, at bottom left: William James -- on chairs, left to right:
D. Bourget, Walter Hunnewell, JacquesBurkhardt, Newton Dexter -- standing, left to right:
Stephen van Rensselaer Thayer, João Martins da Silva Coutinho)


The Collection

The collection’s 976 scientific drawings consist of 518 watercolor and/or pencil drawings of fishes and miscellaneous vertebrates and invertebrates, together with the original color drawings ultimately adapted on stone by lithographer A. Sonrel (including Burkhardt’s classic turtle series) for Agassiz’s Contributions, and 458 fish watercolors and/or pencil drawings from the Thayer Expedition, most drawn from life (Thayer fish drawings, ARC 209). Most of the scientific drawings include pencilled manuscript annotations, many by Louis Agassiz and Joao Martins da Silva Coutinho, an engineer and naturalist who joined the expedition upon its arrival in Brazil. Agassiz’s anatomical observations illustrate his focus on species differentiation in his study of Brazilian fish distribution.


Digital images of the scientific drawings are in the Burkhardt Scientific Drawings digital exhibit.

60 non-scientific drawings include Burkhardt’s Brazil landscapes done during the Thayer Expedition as well as a sketchbook of street scenes and landscapes of Rome, Italy, produced in 1828 (Rome sketchbook, sAg 168.60.16).

The collection includes 5 portrait photographs–3 solo images of Burkhardt; 1 photograph with Burkhardt, Theodore Lyman and Alexander Agassiz; and 1 Thayer Expedition group portrait with Burkhardt, Coutinho, D. Bourget, Newton Dexter, Walter Hunnewell, William James and Stephen van Rensselaer Thayer (Portrait Collection)–and 1 daguerreotype featuring Burkhardt, Lyman and A. Agassiz in the same undated sitting as the previously mentioned photograph, in a slightly different pose (sAg 168.60.1).

Theodore Lyman, Alexander Agassiz, Jacques Burkhardt
(Theodore Lyman, Alexander Agassiz, and Jacques Burkhardt, left to right)

Full records for the digital images of the non-scientific drawings, portrait photographs and daguerreotype can be found by searching "jacques burkhardt" in HOLLIS Images.

Other related materials are in the Thayer Expedition Papers.