The Sky Simulated by White Flamingoes study for book, Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom

Media - 1950.2.3 - SAAM-1950.2.3_1 - 83125
Copied Abbott Handerson Thayer, The Sky Simulated by White Flamingoes study for book, Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom, ca. 1905-1909, oil on wood, 10 1812 in. (25.830.4 cm), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the heirs of Abbott Handerson Thayer, 1950.2.3
Free to use

Artwork Details

Title
The Sky Simulated by White Flamingoes study for book, Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom
Date
ca. 1905-1909
Dimensions
10 1812 in. (25.830.4 cm)
Markings
lower right in oil: A.H. Thayer upper right in oil incised: A.H. Thayer--
Credit Line
Gift of the heirs of Abbott Handerson Thayer
Mediums
Mediums Description
oil on wood
Classifications
Keywords
  • Landscape
  • Animal
  • Study
  • Animal — bird — flamingo
Object Number
1950.2.3

Artwork Description

In 1909, Abbott Handerson Thayer and his son, Gerald, published a controversial book titled Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom, offering their theory of animal camouflage. Thayer believed that the coloration of animals, no matter how eye-catching, was meant to disguise them in nature through what he called “countershading.” Even bright pink flamingoes would vanish against a similar colored sky at sunset or sunrise. No matter that at times their brilliant feathers were highly visible, their coloration would protect them from predators at crucial moments so that “the spectator seems to see right through the space occupied by an opaque animal.”

Not all readers were convinced. The most passionate criticism came from Teddy Roosevelt, who was in Africa when the book came out. He protested upon his return that Thayer’s theory was ludicrous, arguing that on his trip he had spotted some of the animals Thayer mentioned from miles away. Roosevelt’s challenge sparked a heated debate between the two men. Roosevelt wrote a 112-page article refuting Thayer’s ideas; Thayer repeatedly invited Roosevelt to his home in New Hampshire, hoping to demonstrate his theories, but Roosevelt always refused (Nemerov, “Vanishing Americans: Abbott Thayer, Theodore Roosevelt, and the Attraction of Camouflage,” American Art, Summer 1997).

Luce Object Quote

“Our book presents, not theories, but revelations.” Abbott Thayer, 1909