The Science History Institute’s fine art collection contains more than 500 works of art ranging from oil paintings to engravings and mixed media. Our holdings include captivating and even comical scenes of alchemists and chemists, satirical caricatures of early medical practitioners, and modern depictions of the chemical industry, among other treasures.
Art and science may seem an unlikely pair, but in fact the sciences have been the subject of artists for centuries. The Institute collects these works, specifically as they correspond to the history of chemistry, alchemy, and other chemistry-related activities. Such artworks appear in a variety of media, including oil paintings and portraits, prints, sculpture, multimedia works, and contemporary and nontraditional media. The Institute’s fine art holdings are eclectic but nonetheless have considerable strength and depth in the area of art depicting early modern chemists and alchemists from the 17th to the 19th century.
Strengths of the Institute’s fine art collection include the Fisher Scientific International Collection and the Roy Eddleman Collection, more than 90 paintings and 200 works on paper that unmask the fascinating world of the alchemists. In their pursuit of the elusive philosophers’ stone, alchemists created a body of knowledge about the material world through experiments and lab work, setting the stage for modern chemistry. Other highlights of the fine art collection include oil paintings depicting such early modern chemical activities as distillation and metallurgy, watercolors showing the production process of the textile ramie, and a variety of satirical caricatures.
The Science History Institute regularly performs provenance research (tracing the lineage of an object). The most current findings are made available to the public on our website and will be updated as research progresses.
The Institute acknowledges that items in its collections are subject to World War II-era provenance research. We prioritize the research of these paintings and honor Holocaust victims with full transparency of our collections and restitution efforts.
If you have questions about our collections concerning provenance, please email us at email@example.com or write to us at Science History Institute, Attn: Collections Manager, 315 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106.
Access our database of fine art and objects related to the history of science.
Search or browse our growing collection of digitized paintings.
Browse the slideshow for highlights from our fine art collection.
Inventor Charles Babbage drew inspiration from an unusual source for his analytical engine.
This episode explores the colorful (and sometimes risk-filled) history of pigments and painters.