Famous Taxidermists

Martha Maxwell (1831-1881)

Martha Maxwell was one of the first women known to both collect and preserve her own skins. She was born in Pennsylvania but moved to the Colorado Territory in 1860s, during the first wave of the Pike’e Peak Gold Rush, where she became an accomplished hunter. Inspired by the work of a local taxidermist, she began skinning animals for artistic endeavors. Interestingly, Maxwell was a vegetarian throughout her life.

A self-educated naturalist and artist, Maxwell’s work helped found modern taxidermy and changed the look of natural history museums forever. In 1868 she opened a museum in Boulder, and she also showed her preserved animals and birds at both the Colorado Agricultural Society Fair in Denver and at the American Centennial Exhibition of 1876 in Philadelphia.

The Maxwell Owl (Otus asio maxwelliae) is named after Martha Maxwell. She was the first woman to have a subspecies named after her.

The Van Ingen brothers

Van Ingen & Van Ingen was an Indian company specializing in taxidermy. During its heyday, it was run by the three brothers Botha, De Wet and Joubert Van Ingen who were trained by their father Eugene Van Ingen, founder of the taxidermy firm. The Van Ingens lived and worked in Mysore, Karnatak in the southern part of India and became famous for their head mounts, full mounts, flat animal rugs and rug mounts with attached heads. In 2004, author Pat Morris interviewed the 92 year old Joubert for the book “Van Ingen & Van Ingen – Artists in Taxidermy”. Joubert is the last remaining survivor of the three brothers.

The Van Ingen brothers famously preserved shikhar hunting trophies in lifelike poses for the maharajas of India. Their work was considered incomparable to any other taxidermist in the world. The family worked chiefly with tigers, leopards and bears and their book “The Preservation of Shikar Trophies, Artists in Taxidermy, Mysore” is considered an important source for information on the abundance of wild leopards and tigers once found in the wild.

The company was active from the turn of the last century to 1998.

Louis Dufresne (1752-1832)

Louis Dufresne was one of the naturalists traveling on the ship Astrolabe on its remarkable journey. The ship sailed first to Madeira, Tenerife, Trinidad and the coast of Brazil. It then rounded Cape Horn and landed at Concepción and the Sandwich Islands. The journey continued along the northern coast of the Americas all the way up to Alaska. After visiting Monterey, the expedition crossed the Pacific and landed in Macao, China. Eventually, the ship returned to France with an abundance of knowledge.

In 1793, Dufresne started working as taxidermist and curator at Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle in Paris. In the early 1800s, he popularized the use of arsenic soap for preserving birds – a technique which had made it possible for the museum to build the world’s largest collection of birds.

Dufresne also maintained a private collection. By 1818, he had compiled roughly 1 600 bird specimens, 800 eggs from around the world and 12 000 insects. The collection also included a lot of shells, fossils, corals and amphibians. Today, the this collection is a part of the Royal Scottish Museum, after being purchased by the University of Edinburgh in 1819.