|European Watercolors — Prideaux John Selby - Female Gadwall Duck & Female Pintail Duck circa 1820|
|Prideaux John Selby - Female Gadwall Duck & Female Pintail Duck circa 1820
Medium: Watercolor, gouache, grey and brown washes
Dimensions: h: 17.8" x w: 24.2"
Signed l.l.: PJ Selby
Considered by many as the English equivalent of Audubon, Prideaux John Selby created some of the most memorable bird images of the 19th century. His contributions to British Ornithology were rivaled only by those of John Gould, and yet his images were on a larger scale and less purely scientific, exhibiting Selby's distinctive and charming style. A sense for Selby's enthusiasm for his subjects is nowhere more palpable than in his engaging original watercolors. Selby executed these delightful images as preparatory models for his landmark printed series, "Illustrations of British Ornithology." While the artist's engraved work is itself highly desirable to collectors, Selby's original watercolors almost never become available. This selection of watercolors, moreover, comprises several of his masterpieces. The distinctive birds are depicted in profile, their forms delineated by softly modulated tones of black and gray wash, while the setting, if present, is lightly but skillfully painted in order not to distract from the birds themselves. The skill and delicacy of Selby's touch, his keen powers of observation, and his artistic sensitivity are conveyed here in a way they are not in his printed work.
Born in Northumberland and educated at University College, Oxford, Selby was a landowner and squire with ample time to devote to the study of the plant and animal life at his country estate, Twizell House. As a boy, he had studied the habits of local birds, drawn them, and learned how to preserve and set up specimens. Later, Selby became an active member of several British natural history societies and contributed many articles to their journals. Although Selby was interested in botany and produced a "History of British Trees" in 1842, he is best known for his "Illustrations of British Ornithology," the first attempt to produce a set of life-sized illustrations of British birds, remarkable for their naturalism and the delicacy of their execution. Issued in nineteen parts over thirteen years, the book consisted of 89 plates of land birds and 129 plates of water birds, engraved by William Lizars of Edinburgh, the printer who engraved the first ten plates of Audubon's "Birds of America."
These exquisite watercolors, with their exceptionally rich detail and tonal range, are beautiful works by one of the foremost British bird painters. Furthermore, they represent a singular opportunity to obtain unique work of the highest quality by this luminary artist, from an era in British ornithological art that remains unparalled.