Strange Creatures: The art of unknown animals
Grant Museum of Zoology
16 March to 27 June 2015

When new regions are explored and the species in them are discovered, how does the wider world experience these animals? By examining the world of animal representations, Strange Creatures: the art of unknown animals explores how imagery has been used to bring newly discovered animals into the public eye. From the earliest days of exploration, visual depictions in artworks, books, the media and even toys have been essential in representing exotic creatures that are alien to people at home. 

The Kongouro from New Holland (Kangaroo), George Stubbs, 1772 (C) National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London


Strange Creatures centres upon George Stubbs’ painting of a kangaroo, which was created following Captain Cook’s first Pacific “Voyage of Discovery”. It is Europe’s first painting of an Australian animal and became the archetype for how people imagined this iconic species for decades. This painting was recently saved for the nation after it was initially sold to an overseas buyer. This resulted in a government export bar before Royal Museums Greenwich raised the funds to keep it in the UK.  

Strange Creatures from many angles

Palaeontologists and historians of science, exploration and art from across University College London investigate the theme of animal representation from the perspective of their own disciplines to create a diverse exhibition among the Museum’s permanent displays. Strange Creatures represents a chance to see Stubbs’ artwork among other animal depictions from the time of their earliest European encounters.

The story of how the first European encounter came to be is also explored - if Cook's ship hadn't wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef in 1770 the relationship between Europe and Australian wildlife could have been very different. One of Cook's own hand-written journals is put on display. The exhibition includes a number of animal artworks on display were created by people who had never seen these animals in the flesh – including a sixteenth century copy of Dürer’s famous armoured rhinoceros, medieval accounts of exotic creatures, fake “dragon” specimens created from dried fish by sailors, contemporary knitted craft taxidermy and twenty-first century reconstructions of dinosaurs. Together they explore how unknown animals are communicated to the wider public. 

Events programme 

We invited adults and families to delve deeper into the themes of Strange Creatures with a programme of events that accompanied the exhibition. 

Strange Creatures After Hours

men in front of Stubbs' painting of a kangaroo

The night owls amongst you can join the bats, aardvarks, hedgehogs and other nocturnal specimens to enjoy Strange Creatures After Hours. Animals have been presented in bizarre and the incredible ways, come take another look at the natural world with our film night, late opening, open mic night, talks and drawing sessions.  

Animal Showoff


Friday 20 March, 6.30-9.30pm

The team behind Science Showoff presents a very special discovery edition of their anarchic open mic night at the Grant Museum, Animal Showoff. Join us for an evening of demos, jokes, talks, music and more. ANYONE can perform ANYTHING, the only rule is it has to be about the animal kingdom.

Skippy the Bush Kangaroo

Film Screening

Tuesday 24 March, 6.30-9pm

“What’s that Skip, the kids are trapped down the old mine-shaft?” Our film night is heading down under as historian of Biology and film-buff Professor Joe Cain introduces his favourite episodes of  Australian TV series Skippy the Bush Kangaroo.

Draw it Like Stubbs


Tuesdays 21 April, 12 May, 2 June, 6.30-9pm

Could you recreate an animal from just the writings of drunken sailors that compared to other animals? That’s what George Stubbs did. Join us for a fun evening of light-hearted drawing of animals based on contemporary and historical descriptions.  Can you draw it like Stubbs did?

Strange Creatures Late

Late opening

Saturday 16 May, 6.30-9.30pm

An evening of art, performance, games and live taxidermy will bring to life the Strange Creatures exhibition in this very special late opening. 

Great Grant Knit-a-Thon


Tuesday 19 May, 10am-10pm

Inspired by Strange Creatures co-curator artist Ruth Marshall’s knitted skin of a Tasmanian tiger, we have set the knitters of London the challenge of knitting some of our strange creatures, IN JUST 12 HOURS! Bring your knitting needles to ‘stitch one purl one’ for an hour over lunch or alternatively come after work and be inspired to join in over a glass of wine while you view the exhibition. 

DINOSAURS! of Victorian London


Tuesday 23 June, 6.30-9pm

When the Crystal Palace dinosaur models were unveiled in 1854, they took the world by storm igniting the original Dinomania. These beastly models were the first anyone had ever seen of dinosaurs and unsurprisingly left a lasting impression.   Professor Joe Cain as he shares how these models, still on display today, were important in shaping the public’s perceptions of dinosaurs. 

Looking at Strange Creatures: A Travellers’ Tails seminar

Saturday 13 June, 10am-3.30pm

Snipe at Bollo Bridge Road, London W3. (C) ATM

Take a closer look at some strange creatures with our seminar study day and find out more about how art has been used to communicate unknown animals to the world. Over the course of the day you’ll hear from some of our exhibition co-curators, have a private viewing of Strange Creatures and get up close to some of our amazing specimens. Speakers include Professor Markman Ellis, Head of the School of English and Drama, Queen Mary University London, Sarah Wade, PhD Student and Dr. Bob Mills, Department of History of Art, UCL and ATM street artist. Download a full copy of the seminar programme

Show 'n' Tell

person looking at museum specimens

We have invited the co-curators of the Strange Creatures exhibition to showcase an object from the Museum’s collection of 68,000 to share their Strange Creatures research.   


Friday 8 May, 1–2pm

Dr. Andrew Cuff shares his cutting edge research reconstructing dinosaurs from just the fossils of these extinct giant reptiles.  

Tastes just like…

Friday 22 May, 1–2pm

The first encounters with the willdlife of the Virginia colonists in the 16th Century were on the plate, find out more about Misha Ewen’s research on the experiences of these first colonists. 


Australian encounters

Friday 5 June, 1–2pm

The first European settlers of Australia encountered an unbelievable world, join Professor Margot Finn as she shares her research on their experiences. 

Iron and Bone

Friday 12 June, 1–2pm

Find out more about PhD student Kelly Freeman’s research on the surprisingly beautiful art of the Victorian zoology museum.

Family events

creating works of art with a family member

We have rifled through our drawers and searched through our cabinets to bring out some of our strangest creatures. Join us to take part in free, fun, hands-on, art and specimen-based activities.

Creating Strange Creatures

Saturdays 25 April, 23 May, 27 June, Drop-in 1–4pm

The Museum has many amazing animals on display but some have to be seen to be believed. Come along and be inspired by the natural world to create your own animal artwork with a Museum artist inspired by George Stubbs’ painting of the kangaroo

Kangaroos and co.

Tuesday 26– Saturday 30 May, Drop-in 1–4.30pm

Bandicoots, quolls, wombats and devils: Australia is home to a world of remarkable animals. Join us to take part in our fun hands-on specimen-based activities as we celebrate the wonderful world of marsupials.

People behind Strange Creatures

The exhibition was curated by Jack Ashby (Grant Museum of Zoology, part of UCL Culture)

Contributing researchers: 

Chiara AmbrosioJoe Cain and Simon Werrett (UCL Science and Technology Studies)

Andrew Cuff and Anjali Goswami (UCL Genetics, Evolution and Environment)

Bob Mills and Sarah Wade (UCL History of Art)

Misha Ewen and Margot Finn (UCL History) 

Travellers' Tails

The exhibition is the first stage of a tour of the Stubbs painting which will see it travel to The Horniman Museum and GardensThe Captain Cook Memorial Museum, Whitby; and the Hunterian Museum, Glasgow.

It forms part of a collaboration between these three museums, the Grant Museum and the National Maritime Museums in a project called Travellers' Tails. 

The project aims to bring together artists, scientists, explorers and museum professionals to investigate the nature of exploration in the Enlightenment era, how the multitude of histories can be explored and experienced in a gallery, heritage and museum setting, and to question what exploration means today. Travellers' Tails is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Art Fund.

Logos from RMG, HLF and Art Fund

“It’s not only historic artworks which mis-portrayed these amazing species but we also see it in the practice of taxidermy, where skins were shipped back to Europe and fleshed-out to recreate the animal based on a few notes. It’s also true of modern dinosaur toys, which have been copying outdated images of fossil species for over a century

Jack Ashby, Museum Manager and Strange Creatures Curator 

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