An Art That Nature Makes

Finding unexpected beauty in the discarded and decayed, photographer Rosamond Purcell has developed a body of work that has garnered international acclaim, graced the pages of National Geographic and over 20 published books, and has attracted admirers such as Jonathan Safran Foer, Errol Morris and Stephen Jay Gould. AN ART THAT NATURE MAKES details Purcell’s fascination with the natural world – from a mastodon tooth to a hydrocephalic skull – offering insight into her unique way of recontextualizing objects both ordinary and strange into sometimes disturbing but always breathtaking imagery


Rosamond Wolff Purcell is a leading American photographer whose strangely beautiful, often unsettling images of objects from the natural and man-made world have earned her international acclaim. Her collaborations with such diverse intellects as paleontologist and science historian Stephen Jay Gould, magician Ricky Jay, and Shakespeare scholar Michael Witmore testify to both the depth and breadth of her interests: the murky boundary between art and science, the mystery of decomposition and metamorphosis, and the universal human need to collect and classify. Her numerous books include Book Nest, Illuminations, A Glorious Enterprise: The Museum of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, and Owls Head: On the Nature of Lost Things, a lyrical account of Purcell’s 20-year photographic “excavation” of a Maine junk yard. Her work has been exhibited at many major museums throughout the United States and Europe, and is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the National Academy of Science, and the Victoria and Albert in London.


Her remarkable installation, Museum Wormianum, a re-creation of and commentary on the “wonder cabinet” of 17th century Danish natural philosopher Olaus Worm, was featured at the Santa Monica Museum of Art and the Natural History Museum of Denmark, among others. The daughter of Robert Wolff, an eminent Harvard historian and collector of Victorian literature, Purcell is a life-long resident of the Boston area. 

“What kind of genius is Rosamond Purcell? Is she an artist? A scholar? A documentarian? A living cabinet of wonders? Her originality defies category… “
— Jonathan Safran Foer, Author 
“Purcell's work brings to mind … the boxes of Joseph Cornell, the illustrations of Maurice Sendak, the drawings of Edward Burne-Jones.
— Janet Malcolm, The New Yorker 
“Rosamond Purcell is one of the great photographers. She has captured the history of objects by photographing them in Romantic decline: books scourged by worms, petrified food-stuffs, biological specimens gone wrong, the inexorable entropic winding down of everything.”
— Errol Morris, Filmmaker 
“Perceptive thoughts and fabulous photographs of a personal and provocative  cabinet of curiosities." 
 Ricky Jay, Vanity Fair