The Artistic Influence of an Overlooked Explorer

By Allison Meier

Open until July 26, a new exhibition at Americas Society is taking its own expedition into Alexander von Humboldt’s legacy in the visual arts.


Prussian explorer Alexander von Humboldt has his name immortalized on a bay in California, a mountain range in New Zealand, towns all over the world, an orchid, and even a squid. Who exactly this man of wanderlust was, however, remains less familiar. A new exhibition at the Americas Society on the Upper East Side is taking its own expedition into his legacy in the visual arts.

Curated by Georgia de Havenon and Alicia Lubowski-Jahn, Unity of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt and the Americas, which opened this week, overtakes three stately rooms of the Park Avenue–based organization with a refined gathering of paintings, artifacts, books, and other ephemera both directly and distantly related to Humboldt. Scientific instruments similar to those he would have used during his 1799–1804 travels through the Americas — with stops in present-day Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico, and Cuba — are positioned alongside such works as an oil painting of the aristocratic wanderer depicted in a Byronic pose in the jungles of the Amazon and his incredibly detailed chart that lays out the vertical geography of plants in the Equinoctial Regions....

Read the full art review here.