Eclipse paintings of 1918, 1923, and 1925 displayed as a triptych

Howard Russell Butler, American, 1856—1934
eclipses left to right 1918. 1923, 1925
Oil on canvas
Princeton University
PP357, PP351, PP352

AMNH (1918, 1923, 1925)

These eclipse paintings were the beginning of a new career for Butler, who became a consultant to the American Museum of Natural History and made a number of paintings on astronomical themes for their educational programs, which were said to “stir the imagination of several generations of schoolchildren.”

In 1930, the museum installed a triptych by Butler that is a larger version of the triptych that Butler’s son gave to Princeton University (currently exhibited at Firestone Library.) The Museum of Natural History triptych was commissioned by Edward D. Adams (an industrialist, philanthropist, and trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art) for an ambitious seven-story astronomy hall that Butler designed but which was never built— in part because of the stock market crash of 1929. The triptych was later mounted over the entrance to Hayden Planetarium, built in 1935, where it became well known to the public. Two other triptychs that include the eclipses of 1918, 1923, and 1925 (similar in size to the Princeton triptych) are currently on display in the Fels Planetarium at the Franklin Institute (Philadelphia) and the Buffalo Museum of Science.