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Little Beasts: Art, Wonder, and the Natural World

Upcoming Exhibition

May 18 – November 2, 2025

Experience the wonder of nature through the eyes of artists. Look closely at art depicting insects and other animals alongside real specimens.

Art played a pivotal role during the dawn of European natural history in the 16th and 17th centuries. Advancements in scientific technology, trade, and colonial expansion allowed naturalists to study previously unknown and overlooked insects, animals, and other beestjes, or “little beasts.”  Artists such as Joris Hoefnagel and Jan van Kessel helped deepen and spread knowledge of these creatures with highly detailed and playful works that inspired generations of printmakers, painters, decorative artists, and naturalists.

A delight for all ages, this exhibition features nearly 75 of these paintings, prints, and drawings in a unique presentation alongside specimens and taxidermy from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Learn about the rich exchange between artists and naturalists that sparked a fascination with earth’s living creatures, big and small. See how this intersection of art and science continues to inspire us today in a new film by artist Dario Robleto.

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Organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington with special cooperation from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Curated by Alexandra Libby, senior advisor for curatorial and conservation initiatives; Brooks Rich, associate curator of old master and nineteenth-century prints; and Stacey Sell, associate curator of old master drawings, all of the National Gallery of Art.

The exhibition is made possible through the support of Barry D. Friedman.

Admission is always free and passes are not required

Banner detail: Jan van Kessel the Elder, Insects and a Sprig of Rosemary, 1653, oil on panel, The Richard C. Von Hess Foundation, Nell and Robert Weidenhammer Fund, Barry D. Friedman, and Friends of Dutch Art, 2018.41.1