Skip to main content.

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
{search_item}

Department ofVertebrate Zoology

Division of Fishes

Albatross dredging The Albatross dredging. Photo from Townsend, C. H. 1901, U. S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries. Report of the Commissioner for the Year Ending June 30, 1900. Plate I.

Fish Illustrations by Kumataro Ito

A picture is indeed worth a thousand words, in science as well as art. A good illustration can convey morphological features, proportions, scale patterns, and color far more simply and directly than a written description. Colors of specimens fade quickly in preservative, and if not captured in an illustration are lost forever. Today, photography offers a quick and accurate way of recording the appearance of a live or fresh specimen, but hand-drawn illustrations may still provide details that are not captured in conventional photography. The expeditions of the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries all carried artists assigned to record the appearance of animals and plants as they were collected. The successful scientific illustrator needed a meticulous eye for detail and the discipline to put accuracy and faithful reproduction above all else. That the work of these artists strikes such a responsive chord in us is a tribute to both their skill and the inherent beauty of their subjects.

The principal scientific illustrator on the Philippine Expedition was the Japanese artist Kumataro Ito. We know little about Ito, only that he was probably born sometime around 1860 and lived into his 70's. He remains a shadowy figure during the expedition, leaving the ship and returning several times. There seems to have been some strained relations between Ito and Frederick Chamberlain, the resident Naturalist, but Hugh Smith, the Director of the expedition, remained strongly supportive throughout the enterprise. At Smith's invitation, Ito came to Washington in 1912, where he stayed for an undetermined period and completed more illustrations. Through his hundreds of beautiful illustrations, Kumataro Ito has left a timeless gift to our generation and has become an important part of the history of the Division of Fishes. We are pleased to be able to present some of Ito's illustrations here, as an example of the convergence of science and art.

[ TOP ]