John Gould (1804-1881), "Marsh Sandpiper"
John Gould (1804-1881)
Artist proofs for The Birds of Europe
Lithographs with hand-written notations
Sheet size:14 1/2 x 21 1/2"
Frame size: 21 x 27 1/2"John Gould was without question the most prolific natural history 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 shared the romantic enthusiasm of his time for such subjects, as well as the popular impulse to catalogue exotic wildlife. He combined his passion for natural history with outstanding scientific, artistic, and entrepreneurial talents. Drawing on these abilities, he 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.
From the time he took up taxidermy in his early teens, Gould was devoted to recording bird life, either as he observed it personally or as it was reported to him by other ornithologists. He procured the scientific information through extensive correspondence, travel, and field research. The preparatory drawings that he produced were passed on for completion to skilled illustrators, most notably his wife, Elizabeth, and Edward Lear. The plates which resulted from such partnerships were a splendid fusion of art and science, with a scope than remains unsurpassed. Stunning and at the same time highly accurate, Gould’s illustrations linked beauty to science, and science to beauty, in and an unprecedented manner.
One of the most accomplished and engaging natural history works of the 19th century, The Birds of Europe was also the first of Gould’s works to feature plates by Edward Lear. A total of sixty-eight images bear Lear’s name, and they are among the most remarkable bird drawings ever made. Lear endowed his illustrations with some measure of his own whimsy and intelligence, and his style is at once fluidly spontaneous and realistically precise. In this way, the images of The Birds of Europe are amazingly distinctive, while also highly realistic.
Gould undertook this work partly in an effort to redress the imbalance between the study of local and foreign ornithology. In his preface he stated his mission: “the Birds of Europe, in which we are, or ought to be, most
interested, have not received that degree of attention which they naturally demand. The present work has been undertaken to supply that deficiency.” Gould portrayed birds native to Europe in a manner that had only been thought appropriate for the colorful species of distant places. In this way he managed to draw much popular interest back to native birds, which were suddenly considered equally beautiful to exotic species. These proofs, which have notations by the Goulds, were part of the the final preparation stages for this publication.
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