Hermann Schlegel

10 June 1804 – 17 January 1884

Natural historian, ornithologist and creator of some of the world's finest bird books

Born in the German city of Altenburg, Schlegel’s love of natural history began at an early age. 

His father, a brassfounder, was a keen collector of butterflies which first gave the young Schlegel an introduction to the natural world. But it was the unexpected discovery of a buzzard’s nest which set Schlegel on his path to studying birds.

In 1824, Schlegel travelled to Vienna where he attended university lectures by Austrian zoologist Leopold Fitzinger and Austrian taxidermist and zoologist Johann Jakob Heckel.

Two of Schlegel’s best-loved publications are his work on falconry: Traite de Fauconnerie and The Turacos, his study of the Turaco – a colorful bird from sub-Saharan Africa.

Following his earlier meeting with Schlegel, the ornithologist Brehm wrote to the Natural History Museum in Vienna, securing a place there for Schlegel. 

Natural History Museum Leiden 

A year later, the director from the museum recommended Schlegel to the Natural History Museum in Leiden in the Netherlands. Schlegel began working here as an assistant, at first working with the reptile collection but later working with other zoological collections.

In his early 40s, Schlegel became a correspondent of the Royal Institute of the Netherlands which later became the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Debate on evolution

This period was a time of much debate on the topic of evolution. Schlegel believed that species were fixed and made his opposition to Darwin’s theory of evolution clear.

In 1858, when Coenraad Jacob Temminck, director of the Natural History Museum in Leiden died, Schlegel became the new director, after spending over three decades under Temminck’s direction.

Interest in wildlife Southeast Asia

Schlegel had a particular interest in the wildlife of Southeast Asia and in 1857 he sent his son Gustav to China to collect birds. Around this time, he also took on an assistant Otto Finsch and began publishing a scientific magazine Notes from the Leyden Museum.

Schlegel employed three accomplished artists: John Gerrard Keulemans, Joseph Smit, and Joseph Wolf who worked with him on his volumes of bird art.

Schlegel died on 17 January 1884 in Leiden but his name lives on. Several species have been named after him including the crested penguin Eudyptes schlegeli and the venomous snake Aspidomorphus schlegelii.

Two of Schlegel’s best-loved publications are his work on falconry: Traité de Fauconnerie and The Turacos, his study of the Turaco – a colorful bird from sub-Saharan Africa.

Schlegel created the book Traité de Fauconnerie with a second author, his great friend and hunting partner – Verster van Wulverhorst. In 1838, Schlegel developed a keen interest in the art of falconry, after he began hunting near the Het Loo Palace (situated in Apeldoorn, close to the town of Ede).

Writing in his autobiography Schlegel described how he and van Wulverhorst often talked about falconry and how his friend had already created a small publication on the subject.

The lost art of falconry

Schlegel also explained how determined he was to discover the secrets of the lost art of falconry which had become almost completely forgotten in Europe. He was excited to uncover the history of the art and Traité de Fauconnerie was the result.

Schlegel credited his friend’s contribution to the publication by including van Wulverhorst’s name on the title page. He regarded Traité de Fauconnerie with particular personal importance as it was the publication that led him to discover Joseph Wolf, whom Schlegel described as an “unsurpassed animal painter.”

The finest work on falconry ever produced

Traite de Fauconnerie is described by the English ornithologist James Edmund Harting as: “The finest work on falconry which has ever been produced, not only on account of the beauty of the plates, wherein the hawks are depicted life-size and of the natural colour but also for the general accuracy of the letterpress.”

The artwork for this publication was created mainly by Joseph Wolf. His evocative falcon illustrations established him as a talented bird artist, leading to commissions from other important ornithological authors, including Elliot and Gould.

Less than 100 copies of Traite de Fauconnerie were published and only around half of these are thought to have survived.

Birds and instruments 

The publication includes many different birds including the White Falcon, the Iceland Falcon and the Merlin, plus falcons of Europe including the Kestrel and the Sparrowhawk. The publication also includes depictions of the instruments used in falconry, plus information on the terminology of falconry and the history of falconry.

With each bird depicted at life size, the publication was created in the large Atlas folio format of 27.5 x 21 inches (70×53 cm).

Commenting on Wolf’s work, the Scottish bird artist Archibald Thorburn said: “There is an indescribable feeling of life and movement attained by no other wildlife artist.”

Meanwhile, the English painter Sir Edwin Landseer described Wolf as: “without exception, the best all-round animal painter that ever lived.”

Comprising of 17 prints, Schlegel created The Turacos with Gerard Frederick Westerman, one of the founders of the Royal Zoological Society – also known as Natura Artis Magistra, the oldest zoo in the Netherlands.

Published in 1860, the book was commissioned by the society and was dedicated to its patron His Majesty the King – Willem III of the Netherlands.

It is widely regarded as one of the greatest bird books ever published but was an extremely rare publication, produced in a very limited number, and never for sale.

Instead, the book was presented to members of the society and to those within the field of zoological science whom the society felt deserved recognition.

Produced in the large folio size (28.5 x 21 inches, 72.5 x 53 cm), the work depicts life-size illustrations of the beautiful Turacos, famed for their distinctive and colorful plumage, set within their lush natural habitat.

Own your own Schlegel giclée prints

We are delighted to give you the opportunity to own your own Schlegel collection, created directly from the original editions of these acclaimed masterpieces.

Reproduced in the original size, each one is printed using fine art digital printing processes, using the highest possible resolution, to create images that are indistinguishable from the originals.

With age-resistant white etching paper and archival ink; the prints are designed to resist fading for 100 years, giving you a lifetime of enjoyment from these extraordinary collections.

Certificate of Authenticity

You will also receive our Certificate of Authenticity. This shows all the details of your artwork and gives you valuable certification if you ever wish to sell or bequeath your collection in the future.