It is an unassuming object, a smallish, strangely glossy brown egg, and it is broken because of the carelessness of the last person you would expect -
"He squashed it into too small a box and it cracked, unfortunately," said curator
The object is the only known surviving egg from Darwin's HMS Beagle voyage during the 1830s. Probably drawn to its glossy sheen, Darwin signed it
The egg was discovered by a volunteer in the collections of the
"It is a coup," said Vanke, "but we have lots of coups."
Around 220 items are on display, including works by major artists integrated with taxidermy from the museum's collections.
The gallery is particularly pleased to have on display Holbein's A Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling, on loan from the
Other highlights include a John James Audubon oil painting, Hawk Pouncing on Partridges, Picasso's 1949 Dove and a beautiful 4,000-year-old Babylonian stone duck - "when you ask people how old do you think it is they say 1930s," said the show's other curator,
Vanke is the keeper of art while Waterhouse is curator of natural history, responsible for the dozens of stuffed birds in the show, everything from an Andean condor to a tiny hummingbird.
He said there were 20,000 in the
They include some poignant ones: a passenger pigeon, for instance, which used to be the most common bird on the planet - there were billions until hunting and habitat destruction led to their extinction, with the very the last one, Martha, expiring 100 years ago this year.
Another is a laughing owl from
The same cannot be said for the rather chubby albino dodo painted around 1670 by the Dutch watercolourist
Waterhouse said dodos were essentially done for when pigs, black rats and cats were introduced to
The exhibition examines many aspects of birds - how we have been fascinated by them and at the same time so terribly cruel towards them.
The Wonder of Birds,
Some of the exhibits in The Wonder of Birds. Clockwise from above: Hawk Pouncing on Partridges by John James Audubon; a
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