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John Gould (1804-1881), Hummingbirds

 A Monograph of the Trochilidae, or Family of Hummingbirds. [And]  A Monograph of the Trochilidae or family of Hummingbirds… Completed after the author's death… Supplement. London: published by the author, [1849]-1861; Henry Sotheran & Co., 1887.
Lithographs with hand-coloring, many HEIGHTENED WITH GOLD LEAF AND OTHER IRIDESCENT MINERAL PAINTS, over-painted with transparent oil and varnish colors.

Gould maintained an obsessive fascination for Hummingbirds: "These wonderful works of creation… my thoughts are often directed to them in the day, and my night dreams have not infrequently carried me to their native forests in the distant country of America" (Gould "Preface").

During his lifetime he identified more than 400 species of Hummingbird, Linneaus, by comparison, having only identified 22. Gould famously exhibited his personal collection (from which the plates in this monograph are drawn) at the Great Exhibition of 1851 in the Zoological Gardens in Regents Park, and one of his revolving displays of these tiny birds with their "jewel-like glittering hues" (Gould "Preface") can be seen currently at the Yale Center for British Art as part of their exhibition "Endless Forms": Charles Darwin and the Natural Sciences. As a result Gould's "masterpiece [is] an incomparable catalogue and compendium of beauties" ("Fine Bird Books").  

Initially employed as a taxidermist [he was known as the 'bird-stuffer'] by the Zoological Society, Gould's fascination with birds from the east began in the "late 1820s [when] a collection of birds from the Himalayan mountains arrived at the Society's museum and Gould conceived the idea of publishing a volume of imperial folio sized hand-coloured lithographs of the eighty species, with figures of a hundred birds (A Century of Birds Hitherto Unfigured from the Himalaya Mountains, 1830-32). Gould's friend and mentor N. A. Vigors supplied the text. Elizabeth Gould made the drawings and transferred them to the large lithographic stones. Having failed to find a publisher, Gould undertook to publish the work himself; it appeared in twenty monthly parts, four plates to a part, and was completed ahead of schedule.  

"With this volume Gould initiated a format of publishing that he was to continue for the next fifty years, although for future works he was to write his own text. Eventually fifty imperial folio volumes were published on the birds of the world, except Africa, and on the mammals of Australia-he always had a number of works in progress at the same time. Several smaller volumes, the majority not illustrated, were published, and he also presented more than 300 scientific papers.  

"His hand-coloured lithographic plates, more than 3300 in total, are called 'Gould plates'. Although he did not paint the final illustrations, this description is largely correct: he was the collector (especially in Australia) or purchaser of the specimens, the taxonomist, the publisher, the agent, and the distributor of the parts or volumes. He never claimed he was the artist for these plates, but repeatedly wrote of the 'rough sketches' he made from which, with reference to the specimens, his artists painted the finished drawings. The design and natural arrangement of the birds on the plates was due to the genius of John Gould, and a Gould plate has a distinctive beauty and quality. His wife was his first artist. She was followed by Edward Lear, Henry Constantine Richter, William Matthew Hart, and Joseph Wolf" (Gordon C. Sauer for DNB).

Anker 177, 182; Diane Donaldson "Picturing Animals in Britain 1750-1850", pp. 59-60; "Fine Bird Books" (1990) p. 102; Nissen 380; Sauer 16, 22, 29; Wood p. 365.