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Robert Mitford (British, 1781-1870), “Hobby”

Robert Mitford (British, 1781-1870), “Hobby”

  • $ 75,000.00

Robert Mitford (British, 1781-1870)
Original watercolor prepared for Plate 16 of Illustrations of British Ornithology
Watercolor, gouache, grey and brown washes
London, ca. 1820
Signed l.r.: R Mitford
Paper size: 15 3/4 x 10 ¼ in.
Provenance: Collection of H. Bradley Martin

Selby wrote of plate 16: “In England, this species of Falcon is among birds that are named Polar Migrants, or summer Visitant, periodical visitants. It arrives in April, and after performing the offices of incubation, and of rearing its young, leaves us, for warmer latitudes, in October. I have not been able to trace it far northward, and believe that the boundary of its migration will include but a few of the southern and midland counties. Wooded and inclosed districts appear to be its usual haunts. It has been killed as far north as the Tyne ; and a specimen shot at Streatham Castle, Durham, is now in the collection of the Messrs HANCOCK, at Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

It builds in lofty trees, but will sometimes save itself the task of constructing a nest, by taking possession of the deserted one of a Magpie or Crow. The number of its eggs is commonly four, of a bluish-white, with olive-green, or yellowish-brown blotches.

Its favorite game is the Lark, but it preys upon all small birds. Partridges and Quails also become frequent victims to its courage and rapacity, in which qualities, diminutive as it is, it yields to none of its tribe.

Possessing a great length and power of wing, the flight of the Hobby is wonderfully rapid, and can be supported with undiminished vigour for a considerable time. I have often admired the adroitness displayed by one of this species, in pursuit of a Lark; the chase generally ending in the capture of the quarry, in spite of all its aerial revolutions and efforts to avoid the fatal blow.

When hawking was keenly followed, the Hobby was trained to the pursuit of young partridges, snipes, and larks. It is of elegant form, and resembles, in miniature, the Peregrine Falcon. The wings, when closed, reached beyond the end of the tail, in the specimens that have fallen under my inspection, though MONTAGU mentions them as being shorter. According to TEMMINCK, it is common throughout Europe, during the summer months; but retires to warmer regions at the approach of winter. It is widely spread throughout Asia; and I have received specimens from the East Indies, in every respect similar to our own.

PLATE 16. Shews an adult male, of the natural size. Generally bluish-black; strong; with the tooth prominent, and a slight sinuation posteriorly. Cere and eyelids yellow. Irides reddish-brown. Upper parts greyish-black, the margins of the feathers being a shade paler. A black patch or streak proceeds from the corners of the inferior mandible down each side of the neck. Chin and throat white. Breast and belly inclining to buff-orange, with dark brown streaks. Thighs and under tail-coverts buff-orange. Quills black, the inner webs of the feathers having orange-brown spots. The first quill having a deep notch or sinuation on the inner web, about an inch from the tip; the second having the outer web obliquely sinuated, and being the longest in the wing; the first exceeding the third in length. Tail greyish-black, the outer feathers having yellowish-brown bars on their inner webs. Tarsi and toes yellow. Claws black.”

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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