Prideaux John Selby (British, 1788-1867), “White or Common Stork”
Prideaux John Selby (British, 1788-1867)
“White or Common Stork”
Original watercolor prepared for Plate 11 of Illustrations of British Ornithology
Watercolor, gouache, grey and brown washes on paper
London, ca. 1820
Paper size: 16 x 21 1/2 in
Frame size: 27 1/2 x 32 in
“The rare occurrence of the Stork in Britain, contrasted JRare visi with the abundance in which it is found on the opposite continental coast, in Holland and France, is a remarkable instance of the laws which direct the migrations of birds, and confine them within certain limits. And this appears the more striking, when we know that its polar, or vernal, migration extends to a higher parallel of northern latitude than our own, as it regularly visits and breeds in Sweden, and the northern parts of Russia. Upon the continent of Europe it is a strict periodical visitant, arriving in spring, and, after fulfilling the duties imposed on the reproduction of the species, departing in the autumn with great exactness as to time, to pass the period of our winter in the warmer climates of Asia and Africa. In Holland (and indeed in all countries where it breeds), the Stork is taken under especial protection by the inhabitants for the service it performs in clearing the country of reptiles and noxious vermin ; and every facility is afforded to it for securely rearing its young; and for this purpose, in Holland, and in some parts of Germany, boxes or platforms are placed upon the roofs of the houses in the different towns and villages, or false chimneys with flat tops, erected upon the out-houses, as sites for the nests. In consequence of such kind treatment, and the naturally social disposition of the bird, it is very familiar, and may often be seen walking quite undaunted along the dikes and margins of the canals, solely intent on picking up whatever food it may discover. In some towns, Storks are frequently taken when young and domesticated, and these are kept in the fish, and other markets, to devour the offal, and thereby prevent the accumulation of filth, which would otherwise necessarily happen. Such I met with in Amsterdam, and some other towns in Holland; and this office of scavenger they certainly per,Nest, &c. formed with great efficiency. The nest of the Stork is formed of sticks and twigs, arranged in the boxes provided for them, or placed upon the tops of chimneys or other elevated parts of buildings, and sometimes upon the top of the decayed stump of a tree. The eggs are from three to five in number, nearly equal in size to those of a goose, of a cream-colour, or a yellowish-white. After a month’s incubation the young are hatched, and, with great care, attended and watched alternately by the parents until fully fledged and able to provide for themselves. Previous to the autumnal migration (which, in Europe, happens in the last week of August or the beginning of September), these birds congregate in immense flocks, and, as if to try the strength of pinion of the recently produced brood, make several short excursions, and are much in motion among themselves. After these trials of capability, they suddenly take flight, rise high into the air, and wing their way with great swiftness to the distant climes in which they pass our hiemal months; and where, it is said, they sometimes produce a second brood. Of the extent of such flocks, some idea may be formed from Dr Shaw’s account of those which he witnessed leaving Egypt, and passing over Mount Carmel, each of which was half a mile in breadth, and occupied a space of three hours in passing over. When it sleeps, the Stork, like the Cranes, always stands upon one leg, with the neck bent, and the bill resting upon the breast. It frequently makes a loud clattering noise, by bringing the mandibles of the bill into quick and forcible contact the one within the other ; which peculiarity also belongs to the other species. The food of this bird consists of fish, amphibia, moles, mice, insects, and worms, and frequently the young of ducks and other water-fowl ; indeed nothing of animal nature seems to come amiss to its appetite, though Willoughby informs us that one taken in Norfolk, and kept alive for some time, refused toads.
PLATE 11. Represents the Stork of nearly one-half the size of nature, taken from a fine specimen in the collection of Sir WILLIAM JARDIXE, Bart. The bill and legs are red ; the naked orbits of the eyes are black; the irides brown. The whole of the body is of a pure unsullied white, with the exception of the greater wing coverts, scapulars, and quills, which are black. The young are similar to the old birds, except that the black of the wings is not so intense, and the bill is of a reddish-brown colour.”
Prideaux John Selby (British, 1788-1867)
Considered by many as the English equivalent of Audubon, Prideaux John Selby created some of the most memorable bird images of the nineteenth-century. His contributions to British ornithology were rivaled only by those of John Gould. Yet, his pictures were larger and less purely scientific, exhibiting Selby’s distinctive and charming style. A sense of 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 highly desirable to collectors, Selby’s original watercolors rarely 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. The setting, if present, is lightly but skillfully painted to not 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. Several of the drawings are by Selby’s brother-in-law, Robert Mitford, but signed in Selby’s hand.
Born in Northumberland and educated at University College, Oxford, Selby was a landowner and squire with ample time to devote to studying 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. Selby’s work was the first attempt to create a set of life-sized illustrations of British birds, remarkable for their naturalism and the delicacy of their execution. The British Ornithology was 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.
With their rich detail and tonal range, these exquisite watercolors are beautiful works by one of the foremost British bird painters. Furthermore, they represent a singular opportunity to obtain a unique piece of the highest quality by this luminary artist, from an era in British ornithological art that remains unparalleled.
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