These splendid plates from John Gould’s monumental Birds of Australia magnificently display the author’s scientific skill and attention to detail and provides a more complete study than his Synopsis of the Birds of Australia and The Birds of Australia, and the Adjacent Islands. At its time of publication the birds of this region were essentially unknown to a European audience and as Gould himself admitted in the preface to the book, “the field was comparatively a new one”.
John Gould was without question the most prolific ornithological artist of the 19th century, and the only one to rival John James Audubon in ambition and quality. The 19th century was a time of intense fascination with discoveries in natural history, especially regarding knowledge of the wildlife of exotic lands. Gould combined his passion for natural history with outstanding scientific, artistic, and entrepreneurial talents, and embarked on a series of projects that would eventually make him the leading publisher of ornithological illustrations in Victorian Britain. Gould's unparalleled career spanned five decades, and he produced a monumental series of books of birds throughout the world.
The Birds of Australia is John Gould’s largest and most important work. Because he himself spent so much time in the field making his own observations, the text that accompanies the illustrations is by far the most accurate and detailed of all his works. Each of the illustrations is stunningly colored and flawlessly drafted, highlighting the exquisite plumage and elegance of the birds. The colossal work is tremendous throughout, and quite rightly, it is considered Gould's masterpiece. When Gould began work on the Birds of Australia, the ornithology of that continent was all but unknown in Europe. Gould started his research using specimens available in England, but quickly realized that the supply was far from sufficient. He discarded the work and traveled to Australia to begin his effort anew on his magnum opus. Arriving in Australia in September 1838, Gould and his wife, Elizabeth, spent the following eighteen months exploring Tasmania and the adjacent islands, South Australia, and New South Wales, and penetrated well into the interior. Over the course of these extensive travels Gould made many of the preliminary drawings that were translated into the remarkable series of 681 lithographs. Gould collected and documented so many new species ~ more than three hundred ~ that very few additions have been made since. His voyage to Australia was unsurpassed in the annals of ornithology.