When the noted artist Samuel Kilbourne died in May of 1881, he had just completed a series of illustrations for his book, Game Fishes of the United States. This work gave Kilbourne the opportunity to combine his two most notable artistic talents, landscape painting and fish painting, and his masterful combination resulted in a series of spectacular images. Each illustration depicts a fish either in the water eating or fighting a fisherman's line, or drawn up on a hank by the waterside. The fish are amazingly vivid, their shimmering colors and delicate scales almost tangible to the viewer. Kilbourne conveyed perfectly the drama of the sport, as well as the beauty of the natural surroundings. His landscapes are beautifully detailed with foreground foliage, and delicately rendered backgrounds of trees or sailboats.
Born in 1836, Kilbourne was a native of Bridgetown, Maine. Raised so close to the ocean, it is not surprising that his greatest source of artistic inspiration should have been the sport of fishing. As a youth, however, he studied primarily landscape painting, and in 1858, combined that talent with the painting of fish. His obvious technical ability and keen eye for observation led him to be acclaimed by scientists and sportsmen alike. Kilbourne's book was published by Armstrong and Company in 1878-1881. One of the most noted printing companies of the 19th century, Armostrong & Co. specialized in chromolithography, a relatively new method that they worked to perfect, publishing some of the most memorable illustrations of the time. Calling themselves the "Artistic Lithographers, Fine Arts publishers," they were commissioned to do many works of note. Their method of making chromo-illustrations after original paintings and drawings was applied with great success to sporting images, as witnessed by the celebrated series of Kilbourne's fish.